I live with other people. What do they need to know about my dating and sex life?
If you’re sharing your living situation with roommates or family, sorry: your business is now their business, especially if their own health places them in a vulnerable category.
That means you should be as transparent as possible with the people you live with about your relationship(s), and the types of activities and the type of risks that you’re involved in, says Feldman.
The first step in navigating this should be talking with the person you’re dating or having sex with, to establish their level of risk. You need to work out the potential COVID-19 risk their behavior and circumstances pose not just to you, but therefore to the people you cohabit with.
You should be prepared to discuss how you propose to minimize your roommates’ risk, whether that’s avoiding shared spaces in your home, relentless sanitizing of your living environment — or whether your cohabitees are prepared to not do this and accept the heightened risk, and the potential consequences of that.
Basically, get used to communicating because “you need to have some very frank conversations about how you’re going to try to keep everyone safe, and prioritize everyone’s health and well-being,” says Feldman. It’s that big a deal that ultimately, says Cohen, your roommates or family “should have veto power in terms of you engaging in risky behavior and bringing it back to them.”
Is ‘distanced sex’ a thing?
Totally, says Joiner: social distancing and forgoing physical touch does not have to be a barrier to sexual intimacy. Sex toys which use Bluetooth connectivity can be used or worn by one partner and activated remotely by their partner from six feet or more away, without any physical contact. If you want to increase that distance, Joiner says you could use these kinds of toys in conjunction with phone sex, or voyeurism.
It might sound impersonal, but Joiner says distanced products actually require just as much effort and communication, if not more.
“You’ve got to turn on a person to make them feel confident and comfortable and warm like you’re there,” they say. (Joiner’s pro tip: If you’re purchasing this kind of remote toy for the first time, try it out solo first to really get to grips with it — and minimize any awkwardness when you come to use it with your partner.)
I know I am ‘my own safest partner.’ How can I make the most of that?
Nenna Joiner reminds you that some people might actually welcome the break from active dating that COVID-19 enforces. Some people with anxiety can often find the machinery of dating – conversation, sex with someone new – stressful and anxiety-provoking. If that’s you, Joiner says to take advantage of this “buffer,” to get some respite. They also want to remind you that not everyone in the world is into self-pleasure — and if that’s you, that’s totally fine.
If limiting your physical intimacy with others is something you’re committed to, you may be considering acquiring sex toys to concentrate on your personal pleasure instead. Joiner says many sex shops, including their own, offer online chat services, where you can consult with an expert about exactly what you’re looking for. (Joiner says some of Feelmore’s live chats can get “crazy,” so don’t worry about being frank with the professionals. Online deliveries or courier services are also available in many stores, to enable you to maintain social distancing.
Joiner’s entry-level advice with your purchases: “Stay on the lower end [on price], figure your body out for yourself and then progress from there.”
What about taking everything online?
If you decide to take your sex life fully online to eliminate any close contact or in-person elements, New York City’s public health experts advise that if you normally meet your sexual partners online (or make a living on the internet), “video dates, sexting, subscription-based fan platforms, sexy ‘Zoom parties’ or chat rooms may be options for you.”
If you choose this option, don’t forget to keep your environments clean in a way you would if someone else was present, and disinfect any keyboards and touch screens you’re using that you share with other other people.
Also, don’t let the possibilities of the internet (and let’s face it, lockdown-induced frustrations) override your normal judgment around your online privacy and personal safety. Especially when it comes to sending nudes or other intimate material to someone you don’t know and trust.
How can I ‘have’ intimacy if it’s not safe to touch someone right now?
Don’t be deterred or dismayed by how new all this feels either, says Joiner. The pandemic means many of us have had to learn new ways of living in general, and these adaptations to our sexual lives are in many ways “an opportunity to create a new life sexually for ourselves as well,'” they say.
Joiner believes that this might even be a spur to regain intimacy for many people, because of the extra imagination and effort required. It’s a chance, they say, to make sure that you’re really focusing on your own emotional needs.
Julia Feldman advises that this is also a potential moment to redefine what intimacy means for you, beyond mere physical touch: “We can’t say that intimacy is dead!” she says. “It just has to function slightly differently.”
I live with my partner but we’re not having much sex. Help!
It’s not just single folks who aren’t necessarily having the quantity or quality of physical contact they’d prefer during quarantine. For a couple who lives together, even a previously harmonious relationship can be severely tested by 24/7 cohabitation during COVID-19 – and result in a drop in intimacy.
It’s all about switching up your timing to reinvigorate a dynamic, says Joiner. They recommend taking separate breaks outside of your shared accommodation — like a solo lunch break at the park — but also occasionally meeting up in a fresh setting that’s not where you live together. Joiner recommends trying a joint picnic, or a driving date — shared experiences that “will actually lead you to have to know why you’re in a relationship with your partner, and then to lead towards more intimacy, which leads to more sex.”
Don’t forget the power of dressing up slightly too, says Joiner, who warns against “the rut of seeing each other in certain clothes” (eg. your work-from-home sweats.)
Even making a little effort for regular activities can go a long way, they say. “Like my partner: Yesterday we went to church online, and she puts on a dress. I’m like, ‘shit!'”
My live-in partner is really bad at social distancing, and I’m worried to kiss or have sex with them. What can I do?
If you’re covering your face in public and maintaining social distance, but your partner doesn’t, they’re not only heightening their own risk of contracting COVID-19, but bringing their risk home to you. How can you have that conversation in a way that makes change?
In a sense, this conversation is an extension of the dialogues you and your partner have already (hopefully!) had about trust and fidelity of all kinds within your relationship, and the things that matter to you, whether that’s strict monogamy or communication around other partnerships you may have. Agreeing to even be in a relationship is about declaring an intent to care for that other person’s wellbeing and safety in certain regards, and any breach of that — like bringing home a risk of COVID-19 without discussion — represents a decision to disregard that agreement.
So if you’re in this situation, try explicitly framing this with your partner as a fidelity issue, recommends Feldman: “We made a commitment to protect each other through the good and bad, and right now this is pretty bad.”
She advises aiming to come to a reaffirmed agreement with your partner about “what level of risk you’re both willing to take on, and to really sign onto that.” Then, if there’s still a breach, you really need to talk about respect within your relationship, and whether you’re both really committed to each other.
When opening up these dialogues with your partner, Feldman also advises emphasizing that these are not “normal times,” and this is not forever. These restrictions and limitations for which you’re advocating on the grounds of your shared health – and the trust in your relationship – are temporary. “You’re not saying your husband can never, for example, go play poker with the guys ever again, or whatever it is that he wants to do.”
If you still have questions about safe(r) sex and dating during the COVID-19 pandemic, submit them anonymously here – we may update this guide.