Thirst is a distant memory.
Think back to the last time you saw a genuine thirst trap, one somebody had put some real effort into. The last time you saw a sweaty post-gym selfie, or someone you work with lip-syncing to music in underwear for absolutely no good reason. Chances are: it’s been a while.
During the heady early days of the pandemic, when thirst was rampant and everyone was rabid for a man wearing a simple silver chain, spamming your Stories with golden-hour silhouette selfies was worth it, because summer still felt possible, as did the promise of cashing in on all those flame emoji reacts. But it’s now February of 2021 and there are no more thirst traps, just 5PM press conferences and sad daily walks.
The monotony of lockdown has bled into every aspect of our lives. Olivia has lived with her boyfriend since 2019, and says that living together through lockdowns has changed the dynamic of their relationship, particularly the way they have sex.
“We’ve become more like the stereotypical old married couple. I don’t mind it – it’s just nice to cuddle up together and watch whatever films are on his Netflix list,” she says. “We still have sex sometimes, like once a week I guess, but it’s less spontaneous. Before it would be like, he would run me a bath when I was on my way home or something, or I’d send him a picture while he was at work, but now we’re constantly together, so that’s gone.”
For Loren and her boyfriend, it was coronavirus itself that stopped them from having sex. After catching COVID last year, Loren started to read studies which showed the virus could have a lasting negative effect on your libido.
“It was a mild case, but I’d read about people losing their libido, so I freaked myself out for sure,” she says. “I had no sex drive or libido while I had it, or when I was recovering and quarantining. Me and my boyfriend sext a lot when we’re not together, but I was in no mood for it whatsoever. I was really worried about it not coming back at all.”
Luckily, Loren says, her sex drive returned – but then her boyfriend moved in with her and her family for a few months, making sex near-impossible. “Ideally, we’d want to have sex every day,” she says. “In my family home we have quite thin walls, five other people and a single bed. It was hard to feel comfortable with people walking by the door during the day, or we felt we’d have to wait until late at night when people were asleep.”
While people with partners have had to adjust the way they have sex, if you’re single, the story has been a little more complicated.
For the majority of the pandemic, having sex with someone from outside your household has been against the rules. In August, sexual health charity Terrence Higgins Trust published new guidelines for having safe sex, which included having sex with yourself or someone you live with, “not kissing, wearing a face mask during sex, favouring positions where you’re not face-to-face” and washing your hands before and after intercourse. A month later, the Department of Health issued its own guidelines, warning couples in the “early stages” of a relationship to follow social distancing rules, but adding that people in “established relationships” could have sex.
Essentially: single people have not done well out of the ever-changing restrictions.
Phoebe is single and living with family, and thinks the government could have spared a thought to the many people in her situation.
“I was having sex with the same guy between June and October, in the gap between the first and second lockdowns,” she explains. “[The government] haven’t taken people who are in relationships or sleeping together, but [who] don’t live together, into account. I think going to one other person’s house for emotional or sexual connection wouldn’t affect infection rates that much, as long as each person was careful. People do need human contact, and if you live by yourself or with your parents, you’re not going to get that. It’s annoying, but I don’t want to break lockdown rules or risk anything to see him.”
Instead, Phoebe has had to settle for just sexting her recent partner, who also lives at home with family. “It’s not been great, honestly,” she says. “It is satisfying for a bit, but it’s obviously not the same, so the urge tends to come back quicker. My actual libido tends to ebb and flow depending on my mood, but it’s gotten higher in this third lockdown.”
Living through three lockdowns has changed 28-year-old Jay’s approach to sex and dating altogether. “I had sex with someone I was previously in a relationship with in August of 2020,” she says. “It wasn’t a good idea, so then I decided to put more energy into other things, like the gym. I’m celibate now, though. I’ve pledged a year for now. It’s hard, because I’m so horny right now, but it’s for the best.”
Most of the single people I speak to say it’s mainly the things that come with sex – the anticipation and the intimacy – that they miss most about the pre-pandemic world. Jade, who has lived alone throughout the pandemic, is one of them. She sends me a tweet suggesting a pillow for anyone who misses cuddles, but mainly it’s the little things, like being flirted with, that she mentions.
“I miss attention,” she says. “I was content being single, as I was out and about and dressed nicely, so I felt good about myself – but now I’m just at home wearing joggers every day. Of course I have the power to change that, but most days I can’t be fucked to even brush my hair.”
As for Phoebe, sex won’t be the only thing she’s focused on when restrictions do finally ease: “I want to see my friends and hang out with them as much as I want to have sex.”