Love, Sex and Dating in the Time of Corona
How can a dating person have a safer sex life during the COVID-19 pandemic?
Posted June 22, 2020
Most articles these days about COVID-19 and the Coronavirus are using the adjective “unprecedented” so frequently it’s become ubiquitous with our collective consciousness. However, when it comes to dating and sexual activity, these experiences do have some precedent. The AIDS epidemic covered a period of 14 years before there was a prophylactic treatment that could treat HIV and prevent AIDS from developing. In fact, the anniversary of the first reported cases to the CDC was on June 5, 1981.
During that period, if you were single, you had to make many decisions about if and how you were going to have a sex life. There were many gay men living in American urban cities that decided against any sexual connection because they had literally seen scores of their friends die from AIDS. I have heard older gay male clients tell me they feel like they lost their twenties and the ability to sexually experiment because they made this exact decision to be abstinent from partner sex. But the majority of gay and straight folks did not stop having sex altogether.
Organizations like Gay Men’s Health Crisis co-founded by Larry Kramer (who recently passed away), a white activist and playwright stepped in when the president and NYC’s mayor wouldn’t even utter the words HIV or AIDS to offer testing, safer sex guidelines, and education, social workers, crisis counseling, and buddies. Similar to current statistics showing Black communities not getting the preventive health education and treatment for COVID-19 and subsequently dying in larger numbers in comparison to those in the white community, gay Black men were not included in outreach, testing, treatment and safer sex education in the early days of HIV.
But here we are in the time of Corona, when merely leaving our homes and going to a supermarket carries risks that could endanger our own lives and/or those with whom we share our homes. The current CDC guidelines state that getting closer than six feet puts both people at risk for passing or contracting the COVID-19 even if a person’s asymptomatic.
That puts kissing, the most basic of sexual desires, in the category of less-safe sexual practices. In contrast, Kramer’s activist organization Act Up’s de-stigmatizing public health campaign splashed huge posters depicting straight, gay, and lesbian couples kissing on NYC’s city buses to educate the public that kissing shouldn’t be feared or shamed. As we approach Pride 2020, it's critical we learn the lessons hard-earned from those early HIV/AIDS days.
Given that many singles are not realistically going to remain completely celibate until there’s a COVID-19 treatment or vaccination, it’s time to talk frankly about safer choices when it comes to love, sex, and dating in the time of Coronavirus. What are the facts that have been most recently updated?
According to the most recent NYC Dept of Health Safer Sex guidelines:
- You can get COVID-19 from the saliva, mucous, and breath from a person who has it, even if they don’t have symptoms.
- The virus can spread to people who are within about six feet of a person with COVID-19 when that person coughs, sneezes, or talks.
- The virus may also be spread by touching shared items or surfaces, and then touching your eyes, nose, or mouth.
- Some people may have the virus and not know it because they may have very mild symptoms or no symptoms at all.
We still have a lot to learn about COVID-19 and sex.
- The virus can be in saliva so kissing is a pretty high risk.
- The virus has been found in the feces (stool or poop) of people who are infected. The NYC memo mentioned you could be putting yourself at risk if you rim a partner. (Rimming is the sexual behavior of licking a partner’s anal rim to give and/or receive pleasure).
- The virus has been found in semen, but we do not yet know if it can be spread from one person to another through semen. Currently, there is no evidence that the virus has been found in vaginal fluid.
- We know that other coronaviruses are not easily spread through semen or vaginal fluid.
What Are the Safest Ways to Have Sex?
Sex is safer with someone with whom you live, like a roommate. Some single people had begun dating before stay-at-home orders and had to make a decision whether to continue seeing the new partner and agree on quarantining rules. Other singles decided to take the plunge and move in with the person they were dating as an antidote to loneliness or as an experiment to see if they were ready to move ahead to a more committed stage after COVID ended. During the more restrictive sheltering-at-home period, some single folks began a sexually exclusive relationship with a roommate in order to remain safer while ensuring they had a hookup body for the quarantined months.
Sex with yourself is still sex! Masturbation and self-pleasuring either by yourself or with someone who you can see and hear on a device is probably the safest sex out there right now.
Masturbating allows for time to take one’s pleasure into one’s own hand (or vibrator as the case may be) and confident self-agency needed to develop and grow one’s sexual self-esteem. Self-pleasuring helps humans learn more about the pace, types of touch, and technique they need and builds one’s sexual agency.
It also can relieve some loneliness for those who are quarantining alone in that it re-affirms the belief that they are worthy of self-love (a term used by masturbation teacher Betty Dodson) and pleasure. Many individuals living alone during this time have written about the extreme loneliness that ensues. The recent survey released by the census bureau data shows us that 24 percent of people showed significant symptoms of major depressive disorder and 30 percent showed signs of generalized anxiety disorder. It’s a huge jump from ordinary times.
Some singles have decided to go ahead and meet someone virtually through speed dating apps sites and discovered how much more relaxed they feel now that the option of IRL sex is not on the table within the first month of dating. It’s almost like they’ve gone old-school and had longer conversations to get to know one another before deciding to meet for a socially distanced walk in the park.
For singles more used to small talk over social lubricating drinks, they have found themselves stretching more to flex their conversational muscles and expand their emotional intelligence. It forces these singles to be more vulnerable earlier in a relationship.
Some creative alternatives to the usual Hinge, Bumble, and Tinder apps include:
DrinksFirst, a podcast self-described as “a dating podcast about NYC's kinda eligible” created before COVID and hosted by Ariana Nathani, where a featured single, seasoned NY person gets interviewed about how they’ve navigated dating, how they view the scene, and their favorite and most detested aspects of the experience. If you’re interested in matching with a podcast guest/ have any feedback, you can direct message the founder at @drinks.first on Instagram or email email@example.com.
Another business that sprang up out of singles needing to connect to battle the shelter-at-home blues of Corona was the @CatchFeelingsNotCovid Project begun on Instagram by Amanda Shane and Chelsea Mandel of NYC to help set up a few friends in their social circle. It has now grown into a veritable business with hundreds of singles looking to get matched up for a FaceTime, Skype, or Zoom date.
Another matchmaker who has had a gallery in the East Village for years and found her matches through in-person interviews is Amy Van Doren, founder of The Modern Love Club. Before COVID, she and her assistant offered one-hour IRL interviews with folks many of them in their (30-50s) to build up what she quaintly refers to as her “Rolodex” of interesting singles who are looking for love. For info on her Corona matchmaking services, send an email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Sex With a Dating Partner With Whom You Don’t Live
Some single people may have begun dating someone before stay-at-home orders and had to make a decision whether to continue seeing one another IRL. Given that some are caring for their parents, elderly grandparents, or have children at home, the risks inherent in seeing others who may not be as strict about quarantining felt like too big a risk. On the other hand, others came to agreements on the way they would protect themselves and therefore their kids and other relatives. Some folks had to make the choice between: Do I want to still see my parents or keep my sex life alive?
For these couples, and those folks who began dating through apps and sites during the stay-at-home period, the next level of safer sex options involve technology and imagination.
Digi Sex Options, aka #ApartTogether
With the help of technology and creativity, there are many safer ways to have sex online with a new or established partner that allows for mask-free fun. Teledildonics is the new technology that allows partners to combine telepresence with sexual activity.
There are toys that allow one partner to remotely control the vibrations the other partner is using through an app on one’s phone and some can be programmed with a playlist. Several companies now sell these types of toys including: WeVibe, Lovense, OhMiBod, and Kiiroo.
Whether it’s a clitoral vibrator, an internal dildo-like vibrator, or a fleshlight-type masturbator that replicates the feeling of penetrative sex, the physical stimulation can be arousing. Some of these clitoral vibrators slip under a female-identified person's panties so that a partner can stimulate her while she goes about her daily tasks.
But what about the erotic turn-on that comes into play when partners are seducing each other?
That’s where your erotic imagination and verbal seduction are key. So in keeping with this new normal of lengthening the courtship process, why not use your creative minds to play with a new partner to escape the physical restriction of your lives? "Let’s pretend" is what kids organically do; it’s just that most adults forget to play using their imaginations.
One’s imagination is a portal of:
- Creative scenes of past loving partners
- Fantasies of folks one’s crushed on recently
- Visions of a fictional character full of desire
Our erotic minds are our strongest sexual muscle and always available to anyone as escapes to joyful, loving, and pleasurable experiences. Given that safer sex requires distance, folks can use their minds to explore all sorts of fantasies.
One can incorporate sex toys into this partner video play incorporating sex talk. Flirting and seductive talk can be challenging for some folks who in pre-COVID days would rely on touch and visual cues to increase erotic energy.
For beginners or shyer types, check out the film Sex Lies and Videotape in which a filmmaker consensually videotapes women for his own erotic experience. Much of the steamy scenes come from questions he asks his subjects:
The questions are what make the scenes sizzle:
Questions About Likes and the Past
Have you ever had sex in a public place?
Where? Have you ever been caught?
What parts on a body do you find most erotic?
Do you like being turned on and made to wait? Tell me about a time you’ve been crazily aroused by just making out alone,
How can a lover drive you crazy with their tongue? Their fingertips? Their lips?
When was your first amazing sexual experience?
Questions About an Imaginary Future When COVID Is Resolved
- If we went on an erotic adventure together, where would we go? What three things would we need to bring and what would we wear?
- What items in my kitchen would feel good if I dragged or grazed them across your body? (And you can walk over to your kitchen if you have privacy.)
- If I came over to your place, what room other than the bedroom would you love to have sex with me in? What would you do to me there? Can you give me a video tour?
- If you came over to my place what food items would you bring to put on my body? Where would you begin licking it off?
These are some erotic ideas to help single folks who want to express themselves sexually while taking the safest sex precautions COVID-style using imagination, technology, and old-school seduction skills.
Next Level of Safer Sex
The NYC Department of Health's guide recognizes that some folks will continue to have real-life sex and recommends to keep the masks on, refrain from kissing, and consider being a little bit "kinky." This may be the first time a city health department recommended people experiment with BDSM/kink positions that keep faces as far apart as possible or using physical barriers like walls to have penetrative, manual, or oral sex.
This description recalls stories of gay bathhouses in urban cities where gay/bi/queer men would meet men for anonymous sex through a hole in a partition. While HIV+/AIDS is still a disease, one from which one should protect oneself and one's partner by using condoms and dental dams, the circle back to sex between barriers now recommended as a safer type of sex due to COVID-19 is startling. And the fact that these recommendations are coming down the week the Supreme Court passed a law protecting gay and transgender rights in the workplace and during PRIDE month lets us know our society has come a long way in terms of speaking about sexuality frankly and realistically.
Decide and articulate what safer sex practices you want to engage in and use your Sex Esteem to communicate your boundaries clearly to whomever you are dating.
Siegel K, Raveis VH. AIDS-related reasons for gay men's adoption of celibacy. AIDS Educ Prev. 1993;5(4):302-310.