TThis year was meant to be a rerun of the roaring 20s, your hot girl or boy’s summer. We would be hedonists, bacchanalia and, above all, fucking. All the pent-up energy of the confinements, the only time it has been illegal for people from different households to have sex, would explode in a gargantuan summer. But has it worked that way? Or has Covid ruined our sex lives?
Have we really stopped having sex?
Every decade since 1990, the UK has carried out a detailed National Survey of Sexual Attitudes and Lifestyles (Natsal). In 2020-21 it was replaced by the smallest Natsal-Covid Study, which painted a complicated picture: of those in cohabiting relationships, 78% saw a change in their sex lives, usually for the worse. One in 10 reported sexual difficulties that began or worsened during confinement. Although 63% reported some sexual activity, 75% of those who did so were in a cohabiting relationship. Times have inevitably been even tougher for couples who didn’t live together. As for people who were not in a relationship, the months of confinement were a catastrophe: only one in 30 women and one in 10 men had a new sexual partner.
An increase in sexual activity can often be detected by an increase in STI rates, but these are difficult to judge today. As an anecdote, professionals have reported a jump. Will Nutland of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, co-founder of the non-profit organization Love tank, who investigates health inequalities, says: “All my clinical colleagues have noticed an increase in STIs. There has been a huge rise in syphilis, especially among heterosexual women. “But the general feeling is that the lack of STI services driven by Covid means these are mostly stockpiled cases from 2020. Bottom line: just like the summer did not materialize, so did love.
Long ago Covid kill your mojo?
Probably a short answer. Robyn, 37, contracted the virus last December, felt better in January, and then noticed her symptoms return. “The main thing is a terrible fatigue and mental confusion. I forgot the name of my roommate. Technically I could go on a date, but I barely have the energy to walk to the corner store, let alone have sex. “And anyway, she adds:” I have absolutely nothing to say for myself. My interests are naps and baths. I don’t have a bright personality. Oh, and since December, I haven’t had any sex drive. “
But Eleanor Draeger, a doctor in sexual health and HIV, advises against excessive extrapolation. “People with all kinds of physical disabilities have sex, and for a long time Covid is a physical disability. They may not be having sex hanging from the lamp, but they can still have sex. ”However, he agrees that if low libido is a symptom, it will be quite decisive.
How does the fear of contracting Covid affect? our sex lives?
It is not unreasonable to try to avoid catching Covid. Rose, 27, lives in Edinburgh and works in responsible investing, which is why she uses the phrase “risk budgeting” more than most of us. But she says, “I don’t want to waste that budget on spending time with anyone other than my friends.” Doesn’t want to try to hang out with friends: “Would you ruin a friendship at a time when it’s so difficult to make new friends?”
Has a stunted desire for social distancing by privacy?
There is a subtle but gigantic mental barrier to cross when going from two meters to zero millimeters in distance. “People are not necessarily afraid of Covid,” says Nutland. “They have just forgotten how to be around.” This doesn’t always have a sexual dimension: many people describe anxieties about everyday proximity and crowded spaces. “We have lost those social and sexual skills,” he adds, “although they will return with a little time.”
Have the confinements shaken the confidence of our body?
Almost half of us – 48% – gained weight in the confinement and 29% said they drank more. But that interacted with more nebulous feelings of pessimism and low self-worth that come with too much time on the inside. Jenny Keane, a sex educator who was leading an online orgasm workshop when the pandemic broke out, says the comments she was getting “were focused on low libido, lack of desire, and low self-esteem, which are in a circle. vicious”. So he designed a course on “body confidence and sexual self-care.”
Not everyone sank into despair for their bodies. Anya, 38, is frustrated that she is in good shape, but there is no one to appreciate it. “I wouldn’t go into Love Island, but I want someone to witness the fact that I’m reasonably attractive and I look good naked.”
Have we become obsessed with hygiene?
Sanitized sex is a contradiction in terms. It is neither reasonable nor possible to be intimate with someone while maintaining barriers against germs. After 18 months of trying to keep us physically apart, it’s hard enough to stop seeing closeness as a threat. Draeger has seen this play out vividly in his clinical work, to the point where an STI diagnosis that would not normally have caused a great deal of distress has had a hugely damaging effect. “People have told me that having an STI feels really stressful in the context of Covid,” he says. “They just felt that everything was unclean.”
Phil Samba, 31, a researcher and activist helping black gay men in particular access HIV and STI testing, says: “All of a sudden, the message was ‘Just a straw.’ That really irritated me. That didn’t work during the HIV / AIDS pandemic, and it’s not going to work now. “But it was still” very triggering “for people who lived through the HIV epidemic. Samba says,” People were dying from a mysterious virus that was it spread through interaction, and it gave people back that ’80s fear. “
Are we all happier staying home now?
Alan, 50 years old,
says, “I’ve gotten so used to talking about my apartment that I think, ‘Yeah, that’s my life now.’ Greg, 45, divorced with two children, ended a relationship early in the lockdown in part because his sons, 10 and 12, weren’t happy about it. “Now I can’t even go to work without the dog climbing up the wall. Everyone has gotten used to this cloaked and slightly selfish world. I would fight to bring someone else into my life. I was supposed to go on a date tonight, but I really don’t like it. I feel a little rusty. “
Also, where is everyone?
Dating apps, brutal at best, are a bit quiet. Anya says: “When the pandemic started, I was 36 years old. Now I’m 38. Part of me worries that men are looking for women whose fertility will not be a problem.” And where do you meet people, if you’ve had enough of app dating? After-work drinks, bars and festivals have disappeared or are operating under new limits that eliminate opportunities for flirting.
Are cohabiting couples really having a better time?
The problems in a domestic relationship are different, says Keane. “A woman can be a mother in the morning, a worker during the day, a mother again when she comes home and a partner when the children go to bed.” In the confinement, we lost those limits and became everything in one room.
Then there’s stress, which can send you in one of two really useless directions: “Either we get turned on, so the kind of sex you want is usually quick and easy,” Keane says. “Or we disconnect and have the feeling of being further away from the person you’re in the room with.”
Even before the pandemic, we were having a lot of sex?
In the US, 2018 research found a clear downward trend: millennials had less sex than boomers They did it at their age, and the Zoomers had fewer than millennials. This does not seem to be the whole story in the UK, unless we are slower to figure it out. Here, under-35s drink less and use fewer drugs, but according to the most recent report Natsal (2010-2012), they were having more of everything in terms of sex: couples, experiments, encounters. They’re certainly not very reliable storytellers – a 21-year-old I spoke to had sex with two different people between agreeing to be interviewed and the actual interview, and that was a 24-hour window. So I had to leave her, but I don’t think she cared.
Why haven’t we returned to normal now??
The lifting of the confinement does not mean that intimacy returns. Many of the practical barriers to sex, such as a house full of children – or worse, adult children – and all those who work from home, remain in place. Tom, 37, has been in an open relationship with his same-sex partner for 20 years. “We are intimate, but we are not really sexual,” he says. They both used to travel a lot for work and had sex with other people when the other was out of the house. Since Covid, that is more difficult. “It’s a bit awkward to say, ‘I’m going to get laid.’ Where we are out of practice is the unspoken understanding: “Oh, you showered and went out for two hours.” It feels like I’m doing something dishonest. ”
Sex is about connection, and the pandemic has been one of disconnection, physical and emotional: at some point or another, we have all been in fight or flight mode, which is as disconnected as life. Keane believes there is a way back, if we better understand how our moods affect our interest in sex. “Whatever the problem, everyone’s question is always: ‘Am I broke?’ When many of us feel shame about bodily functions and confusion about sex, good quality, sex-positive education is key. You can change your entire relationship with yourself simply by changing your understanding of your body. My answer is always the same. ‘No, you are not broken.’
Some names have been changed.
Additional information from Delphi Bouchier
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism