Supermarket prices are soaring, energy rates are out of control and landlords are hiking up rents. The future feels uncertain, but the cost of living crisis isn’t just depleting young peoples’ bank accounts: It’s ruining their sex lives. Romantic wining and dining comes at a cost, and with 93 percent of UK adults reporting an increase in their living costs between August and September 2022, singles and couples alike are struggling to maintain passion-levels.
The Student Beans Cost Of Living Report – published in October 2022 – found that 24 percent of British students reported that the crisis is negatively influencing their dating life, with 10 percent stating a detriment to their sex life specifically. It’s impacting our approach to financial boundaries, too, with dating app Bumble finding that 28 percent of people are now implementing stricter cost-caps on their dating lives. Elsewhere, a study conducted by Stowe Family Law finds that 55 percent of UK couples feel friction in their relationships because of the cost of living crisis: 70 percent worry that their relationship won’t survive it.
This has become the sad reality for Lucy, 23, from Warwickshire, England, who has just broken up with her boyfriend. As money became a topic of concern, their sex life began to plummet. “Dates weren’t a priority anymore, which for me always acted like foreplay. Towards the end, we mainly stayed in the house, didn’t get dressed up and barely made an effort as it felt pointless. I felt a lot less sexy,” she says. “It became very [routine-based] and we were still having sex, but it wasn’t as exciting or varied. Our sex life was depleting, and that really affected my self-confidence.”
The cost of living crisis exposed pre-existing issues in Lucy – whose name has been changed to protect her privacy – and her ex-partner’s relationship. Originally a long-distance relationship, he had relocated from Leicester to Warwickshire to be closer. Many of his friends still lived back home, and he was increasingly more willing to spend what money he had on drugs and alcohol while visiting them.
“His priority was going to see them, which was fine, but it meant that there were no date nights or quality time, even inside the house”, Lucy says. Her partner was earning around £10,000 per year more than her, but she continued to put in the same level of both emotional and financial effort even as their relationship began to spiral. The burden fell on her to top up the electricity meter and organise the weekly food shop as he spent both time and money elsewhere with friends – and he showed little appreciation of her efforts.
“For his birthday, I scrimped and saved,” she adds. “I don’t have a lot of money, but I was choosing to make a few sacrifices so that we could have a really good time together.” That effort wasn’t reciprocated for her birthday: In the end, financial strain and differing priorities killed the passion.
For people like Lucy, the emotional impact of the crisis is leaving little room for a blossoming sex life. “In hard times, we have to be really upfront with our partners about money which many people find uncomfortable. It can also highlight differences in spending and budgeting habits, and that can lead to tensions”, explains Isabelle Uren, a sex expert at sex-positive resource Bedbible. “Sexual desire is moderated by physical, psychological and social factors. Stress inhibits our sexual desire; financial problems often come with feelings of fear about the future and shame, a true trifecta of libido killers.” It’s little surprise that couples are struggling sexually, or in Lucy’s case, calling it quits entirely.
Financial strain isn’t just a mood-dampener in relationships: It’s also impacting how we seek out new partners and access casual sex. Increasingly, dinner and drinks aren’t affordable options as a precursor to sex. Many are skipping the romantic pretence and dropping their locations for their sneaky links instead, with Bumble finding that 32 percent of people are less impressed by over-the-top, lavish dates; a further 57 percent are more interested in casual dates.
Single since February of 2021, Freya, 24, has recently started dating again after a period of celibacy she labelled ‘celibate summer’. “Being back on the apps, men don’t want to go for a drink,” the Londoner shares. “They just want to skip all that and just shag. Just fucking is fine, but it’s not what I’m looking for.”
Amidst an uncertain socio-economic climate, many are re-evaluating the traits they’re looking for in a potential partner. Freya is seeking longevity and craves stability in a way she hadn’t before. “If I’m looking for a long-term relationship, I want to know that that person is reliable with money,” she says. “It’s so much cheaper to live [as] a couple than it is to be single and that makes me think about things in a way that I didn’t before.”
Locked out of the housing market, renting with flatmates is the norm for young people: SpareRoom reports that the number of people living in shared houses has increased by 400 percent in the last ten years. Housing charity Shelter found that almost 2.5 million renters are either behind on or are constantly struggling to pay their rent, marking an increase of 45 percent since April 2022. Bringing casual shags or potential suitors back into shared spaces has become even trickier as a result.
“Having someone round all the time and using my shower, I don’t want that,” Freya says. “That stuff does add up and I would want to be sure from the outset that we’d have an even split, not just for me but for my flatmates too.”
Dave, 29, from Hertfordshire, England, has had a similar experience. As a gay Christian, he has found the cost of living crisis has made his already complicated dating life trickier. He wants to match with people who are respectful of his religion, and adding money into the mix has caused issues. “It’s really weird because you want to show that you’re interested and intentional,” he explains.
Faced with hefty train fares and equally pricey fuel expenses, he’s having to jump through hoops to suggest affordable date ideas. “There’s been a massive amount of caution, particularly for people like me that don’t earn loads of money. There was one guy that said to me, ‘I can’t really afford to drive there and back so we just won’t talk.’”
Where Dave is able to arrange dates, money is becoming a dominant topic in conversation and it’s killing the vibe. “I went on a date with a guy, and we literally just talked about money for a good half an hour. It’s so difficult because obviously, we weren’t there to talk about money, but it’s such a big issue.”
It’s also meant that he can’t pursue a varied dating life like he normally would, so he can’t play the field. “Sometimes, I just can’t afford to see two people in a month,” he says, adding that people that he feels a genuine spark with are hard to come by, and awkward financial difficulties make it challenging to take things beyond a few texts or even a first date. “You find someone that you actually like, and you want to develop a relationship with them. It’s really impacting that next step.”
So where do we go from here? The future of sex might seem bleak, but if there’s anything positive to find in this situation, it’s that conversations around money are at least being normalised. “The younger generational crisis of ‘what does my future look like’ is, in some ways, bringing lower economic communities together,” says clinical therapist and sex and relationship expert Sarah Tilley. “Talking about economising is becoming less shameful – it’s now a shared commonality.”
Having these important conversations around finances – despite their potential to be a massive cock block – can help us to seek and build meaningful relationships and strengthen existing ones. Adopting an open mentality might not shave off a few eye-watering quid at the pub pre-hook-up, but it can – at least - help to filter out the cheeky links worth swiping right for.