Pandemic life is tough on everyone, but for a single person, the prospect of dating and sex  feels impossible. Picture: Lam Yik Fei/The New York Times
Pandemic life is tough on everyone, but for a single person, the prospect of dating and sex feels impossible. Picture: Lam Yik Fei/The New York Times

How dating and sex has changed during a pandemic: Masks, no kissing and ‘a little kinky’

By Tara Parker-Pope Time of article published Jun 12, 2020

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Pandemic life is tough on everyone. But for a single person, the prospect of dating and sex - while social distancing to avoid a potentially life-threatening respiratory illness - feels impossible.

How do you date without touching or kissing? How do you have sex without breathing on your partner and putting each other at risk?

“I’ve gone at least two months without sex or other physical connection, and even in my 50s, that’s a long time,” said one man from Austin, who asked not to be named to protect his privacy. “My only venture outside has been to walk the dogs and run a very rare errand, for Pete’s sake. Dating seems even a more remote possibility.”

When the man, who is gay, raised the issue with his online therapy group, he was surprised by the compassionate response. “Overall, folks were supportive, knowing that we need connection, dating and sex,” he said. The fact that the topic hadn’t come up sooner “spoke in some ways to how inhumane the pandemic is.”

A number of public health agencies have offered tips for dating and sex during the pandemic, but the New York City health department has recently updated its Safer Sex and Covid-19 fact sheet with more-detailed and descriptive advice. The new guidelines still say “you are your safest sex partner,” and that the “next safest partner” is someone in your household.

However, the guidance also acknowledges that not everyone has access to an exclusive sex partner at home. People who are dating or “hooking up” should still try to minimize close contacts. Safer sex during Covid-19 also means wearing a mask and avoiding kissing. “Heavy breathing and panting can spread the virus further,” it says. A recent commentary from Harvard University researchers also recommended that people wear a mask during sex with someone from outside their household.

The New York City guidelines discourage group sex, but give advice for those who do “decide to find a crowd.” “Pick larger, more open, ventilated spaces,” it states, among other things.

Individuals can try to find creative alternatives to traditional sex, such as sex toys, masturbating together and sexy Zoom parties, or they could try to “make it a little kinky,” the guidelines state, suggesting, among other things, people can avoid close contact by having sex through holes in walls or other barriers. “Be creative with sexual positions and physical barriers, like walls, that allow sexual contact while preventing close face-to-face contact.” the guidelines state.

If the language seems surprisingly direct, it’s supposed to be, said Dr. Demetre Daskalakis, deputy commissioner for disease control at the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.

“Our health department has a really strong record of being very sex positive,” said Daskalakis. “Abstinence for the duration of the pandemic is not going to work. We tend not to shy away from giving people realistic recommendations. There’s no reason for Covid-19 to be different.”

Daskalakis said the updated guidelines are in addition to existing guidelines for safer sex to lower risk for sexually transmitted disease, and they are a response to hundreds of questions New Yorkers are asking. 

The new rules also advise people who decide to hook up to get tested monthly for coronavirus, or within five to seven days of a hookup. They caution that a confirmed case of Covid-19 or a positive antibody test isn’t definitive proof that you are immune from re-infection. Daskalakis said the tone of the updated guidelines was inspired by a 1983 pamphlet, written during the start of the Aids crisis, called “How to Have Sex During an Epidemic,” which pioneered the public health strategy of harm reduction and safer sex.

“You can’t tell people to stop being human,” said David Lauterstein, founder of the Nasty Pig men’s clothing brand in New York and an LGBT community leader who helped with the concept of the guidelines. “People are going to have sex. When they’re not educated, they’re going to make bad choices.”

While the new guidelines give people detailed advice about safer sex, many single people say it’s tough to imagine even getting to the point of having sex because of the limits imposed by social distancing and the challenges of trusting other people to take needed precautions.

The New York Times

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