Sometimes I think about the woman I was six months ago, before COVID-19 exploded and changed everything ― a woman who went from saying “when this is over” to saying things like “when this is all over, I’m making out with everyone.”
Single people are going through it during the pandemic, experiencing a combination of (admittedly selfish) relief in watching our coupled friends grapple with months of nonstop togetherness and the incapacitating reality that dating, meeting people anywhere besides the internet and especially the prospect of casual sex feel out of reach at best and impossible at worst.
There were options, like dating via Zoom. But, like most things Zoom-centric, it got old. Fast. With warm weather came socially distant dates, taking walks or getting to-go cocktails and drinking them 6 feet apart from each other. But no matter how people have decided to try to date during the pandemic, many of these encounters seem to end with the same question: Is sex, with a stranger or otherwise, worth the health risk?
New York City guidelines state sex with yourself is the safest option, but six months in, I think most of us agree there are needs that go beyond what we can accomplish by ourselves, even with the help of porn or digital get-downs.
So, in an effort to learn more about how others are surviving sexually during the pandemic, I chatted with six people about what their sex lives have been like over the last six months.
“Is this dick really worth dying for?”
Steve (not his real name) had his first quarantine sex encounter in May, with a man he used to sleep with regularly.
“He and I discussed how much contact we were having with other people,” he told HuffPost. “I felt OK about his level of precautions, so he came over. We did kiss, because I was desperate. We had sex for a couple of hours, and he went home.”
Since then that partner has opened up his social circle to include more people, so Steve is no longer comfortable seeing him.
More recently, he hooked up via an app with someone he didn’t know quite as well. Though they discussed general precautions, Steve became nervous when it was time to actually meet.
“I started getting panicked, feeling he may not have been fully honest about how seriously he was taking lockdown,” he said. “I thought to myself, is this dick really worth dying for? I went through with it, more because of my own social anxiety and nonconfrontational nature stopped me from calling it off in the moment. We fooled around but didn’t kiss. The next night he messaged me that he had hooked up with another guy and it was really fun. That freaked me out. I went into full quarantine for two weeks and got a COVID test near the end.”
Steve has kept his hookups pretty much to himself, despite the fact that friends seemed to be more ready to meet up with people for casual sex than him.
“I feel like it was easier two or three months ago to find someone who was willing to have sex but also be cautious,” he said. “Today everyone seems more comfortable taking risks than I am.”
“Sometimes I was actually using it. Sometimes I put it on the kitchen table while I was scrambling eggs.”
Sexting was an attractive option for many people in the early days of the pandemic when even venturing outside felt daunting.
“I was super scared to leave my house, so I basically let anyone with [whom I had] at least one mutual connection ‘sext’ [with me],” Taylor, who lives in Los Angeles, told HuffPost. “This included a Hinge match who knew a friend from business school, friends I’d never hooked up with but who were rumored to have big dicks and a guy named Brian who sold bicycles. I often let them control my Bluetooth vibrator. Sometimes I was actually using it. Sometimes I put it on the kitchen table while I was scrambling eggs.”
Eventually, Taylor started hanging out with guys IRL but was turned off by many of her partners’ behavior.
“It was frustrating when the other person was constantly talking about [the pandemic] or being paranoid about it,” she said. “Hang with me or don’t, but don’t say yes to hanging and then make me feel bad. Own your decision.”
And though she would prefer to meet up with someone she knows, she isn’t ruling out other options.
“I do hope to get laid again before the coronavirus is eradicated,” she said. “For now, it’s back to swiping and starting all over again.”
“It’s so hard for people who have partners to understand the crippling loneliness that the pandemic has brought on to people who are single.”
For many of the people I spoke to, there was some sense of guilt about looking for or having sex, but that feeling was often dwarfed by the innate need for human connection. K, who lives in New York City, started hooking up again in April, meeting up with a few people from apps as well as someone she already knew.
“I feel like it was selfish,” she said, recalling the experiences, noting her guilt about the encounters. She has avoided seeing her family for fear of possibly having been infected and unknowingly passing the virus to them, and she says she feels “extremely lucky” to not have contracted COVID-19 this far.
“I also suffer from depression, and [meeting up for sex] was a way to help me cope,” she said. “I generally try to avoid being around others and mostly stay home alone. I know I’m putting myself and others at risk, but it makes me incredibly sad to think I would have potentially been alone through this crisis. I feel like it’s so hard for people who have partners to understand the crippling loneliness that the pandemic has brought on to people who are single and actively looking for relationships and intimacy.”
“He told me he was fostering puppies. How could I say no?”
Though some people have attempted to scratch the itch for touch by engaging with a variety of people, there are those who have been lucky enough to find one person to consistently share intimacy with during quarantine. That ― plus puppies ― is what happened to 25-year-old A, who randomly got an Instagram DM from a “friend of a friend” two months into the pandemic.
“Normally I would ignore a DM, but I knew the guy,” she said. “I’ve never hung out with him one-on-one or was ever necessarily attracted to him. I wasn’t sure of his intentions, but I just went with it.”
After a few back-and-forth messages, he invited her over and she agreed.
“In the back of my mind, I knew I had to be cautious,” she said. “Disclosure: I knew he lived in a really nice home with a pool and air conditioning, which was tempting. He also told me he was fostering puppies ― how could I say no? Going into it, I thought he just wanted to hang out since pandemic life can be pretty lonely. After a whole day of playing with puppies, playing pingpong, swimming in the pool and drinking, we hooked up ― the sex was amazing.”
A said she feels there are multiple reasons why they continue to hook up (it’s now been three months, and I’d agree great sex in a house with a pool and puppies sounds hard to pass up) and felt safer with him since she already knew him. “I constantly think to myself, ‘is this guy worth dying over?’ Probably not, but at least I’m having fun doing it.”
“Afterwards, I felt my whole body relax for the first time since March.”
Sex can be a stress reliever, and for many of us, there has been no shortage of stressors in our lives. For K in London, a serendipitous meeting with a friend she’d known for many years was just what the doctor ordered.
“I felt there was sexual chemistry there,” she said. “I spent all week questioning whether I was imagining it. We went for drinks five days later and back to mine for dinner and a film afterwards. I think we got 10 minutes into the film before we ended up in bed.”
As the encounter was unexpected, K said there was no discussion about precautions they’d taken or social distancing from each other beforehand.
“I should feel guilty, given all the rules and the fact that I’ve been pretty good at sticking to them for so long,” she said. “But I really don’t. I know everyone thinks they’ve got it hardest right now, but I’ve found it really hard to be single and deprived of affectionate touch for so long. This went some way to filling that hole, and afterwards I felt my whole body relax for the first time since March. I needed it.”
“As much as I knew how unsafe that probably was in a pandemic, I also just didn’t want to be alone.”
For people who found themselves in a burgeoning romantic relationship in March, COVID-19 served as either a fast track to solidifying that relationship or a disastrous blow to it.
Los Angeles-based C had just started dating someone and, even though she figured out they weren’t compatible by the second month together, “the sex was pretty good and the thought of having to date with new COVID terms seemed like a hassle.” She finally ended things in June when restrictions began to lift in California and she felt more comfortable meeting and dating new people.
Then an old flame moved to town, and she decided to explore a potential relationship with him.
“I blindly trusted him because he was a doctor and assured me he had been safe and taken precautions,” she said.
They spent most of the summer together. “It was new, romantic and sexy,” she recalled. But recently she found out he had cheated.
“He had sexts from other girls on his phone, and I was devastated,” she said. “He promised he didn’t physically cheat, but things ended and I was upset that the man I fell hard for wasn’t sorry or guilty for his actions.”
She reached back out to another guy she’d met on an app.
“I felt the need to get revenge,” she said. “He offered to come over and listen to me vent. As much as I knew how unsafe that probably was in a pandemic, I also just didn’t want to be alone. When he came over, it was comforting, and he said I had been the only girl he’s seen in lockdown but wanted to respect my relationship so didn’t reach out.”
C isn’t sure she believes him but admits she decided to move forward with him anyway.
“It’s probably not the healthiest way to get over a relationship, but hooking up with someone who has already been to my apartment seems like less work, and we both understand that.”
Ultimately, there is no right answer when it comes to the question of how single people should ― or shouldn’t ― be having sex right now. There are ways to help mitigate the risk of becoming infected with the virus during a sexual encounter. And, obviously, not having sex or only having solo sex is the only way to eliminate the risk. But for some, the intimacy that can be gained by having sex outweighs the potential dangers that can come along with it. Like so many coronavirus-related issues, the choice is incredibly personal, and every single person will have to decide how ― or if ― they want to do it.
As for me, I’m still planning on making out someday soon ― just maybe not with everyone.
Experts are still learning about COVID-19. The information in this story is what was known or available as of publication, but guidance can change as scientists discover more about the virus. Please check the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for the most updated recommendations.