The last time I had sex with someone was in January 2020. Twelve months on, our lives changed entirely by coronavirus, I keep wondering whether I’d have done things differently if I’d known that evening in bed with a stranger would be the last time I’d get to have sex for over a year.
I never thought it would bother me that my last sexual experience was a one-night stand which went nowhere. I know there’s no shame in one-night stands. I’ve had plenty. But there’s something about the fact that it didn’t go anywhere and that it was the last time another human being touched my skin intimately that is bothering me.
I was 32 that night last January. I almost didn’t go home with Greg* but there was something about him that hooked me in. He was 10 years older than me. He seemed wise, like he knew things about life that I didn’t yet. We clicked instantly.
It was one of those rare warm and comfortable dates. The sort where you’re touching knees and arms within minutes. When he kissed me, I felt something inside that I hadn’t in the six months prior, since I had my heart hideously broken in the summer of 2019.
Nothing had felt so right in a long time, so I went for it. We had a really good night. I remember feeling young, attractive, alive. Greg and I ended up in an Uber back to his; we drank gin and talked for ages. After we had sex it felt reassuring and safe. He was a good cuddler and after he drove me home the next morning we carried on messaging for weeks. I felt increasingly enamoured of him but after he cancelled on meeting up twice, he admitted that he wasn’t yet over his ex-girlfriend.
I was disappointed, though I’d sensed a sort of melancholy to him which I hadn’t been able to put my finger on so it made sense. And then the pandemic hit and my sex life went into free fall. Every choice I’d made suddenly took on new meaning, new weight.
I am sure I am not the only single person who has found Instagram to be a lot over the last year. Way back at the start of lockdown 1.0, it was a thick soup of couples posting smugly from their sofas. "Wouldn’t want to go through lockdown with anyone else!" their captions read. My finger hit the mute button so many times, it’s a wonder I didn’t end up with RSI.
I had never really minded being single but it was all simply too hard to look at. It wasn’t just sex I craved. I wanted the comfort and security that being in a stable relationship brings. I wanted someone to cook for, who would cook for me. I wanted someone to take it in turns to go to the shop with. I wanted someone to sit next to when it felt like the whole world was falling down around me. Each day, as I obsessively doomscrolled, I was on my own. The daily death toll climbed and the BBC News red ticker started popping up in my dreams.
Fast-forward a year and it is heartbreaking that we are not only still in lockdown but actually seeing more people lose their lives to coronavirus. And here I am, still alone, without a partner to lean on for support.
It’s been such a long time since I last slept next to another person, let alone had sex, that I’ve almost forgotten the feeling of cuddling up with someone in bed and switching off from the world. I keep trying to imagine the relief that comes from allowing your breathing to sync with someone else’s, the reassurance that you get from simply listening to their heartbeat and knowing that you’re not alone.
Much has been said about the "sexual recession" single people are currently experiencing. So, though it might feel like I’m the only person in the world not having sex, I know that isn’t true. A Match.com survey from August 2020 revealed that 71% of its members hadn’t had sex at all in the last six months. Five months on from that survey, of the 2,000 Brits who responded to a MysteryVibe study, a third said they had less sex in 2020 than in 2019. Women's sex lives have been hit hardest by the pandemic, that study found, with four in 10 saying they had less sex in 2020. A quarter of Brits said they didn’t have sex at all in 2020.
"Celibate" isn’t a word I’m particularly keen to use but here I am. I am at once choosing not to have sex because I want to follow the rules and simultaneously being forced to abstain by the constantly mutating virus which is now infecting more people than ever.
Lockdown has a remarkable talent for forcing us all to turn in on ourselves. We rake over the past and all the fun we used to have before coronavirus. I’ve spent many nights lying awake, thinking back to all the wild sex I used to have. There was the time on a rooftop in Ibiza and then in the sea in Thailand. But mostly I’ve fantasised about the very normal weeknight couple sex I had with exes. I’ve reminisced about the cuddling afterwards. I’ve pored over memories of waking up together the next day.
I know there are bigger things going on. I know I am lucky in so many ways. But the cruelty of the fact that giving or receiving a hug is one of the riskiest things I could do never diminishes.
The last 12 months have seen many of my friends get pregnant and have pandemic babies, and I can’t lie and say it doesn’t sting. It’s not like I didn’t try to meet anybody last year. Headlines proclaimed that the pandemic had hailed a new dawn for dating; it was better and more considered, they said, because we were being forced to take things slowly over the phone or on Zoom before a date. But I’m not sure that was ever the case.
Over the summer, as lockdown eased and infection rates dropped and it briefly felt okay to go out and do stuff, I went on several dates. They can all be placed on a sliding scale of weird and anxious. There was a 10 p.m. curfew in place, which made things pressured from the off. Mostly, I found the men I met up with were pushy about sex. And while I’d been craving sex for months, faced with the prospect of going home with somebody I’d only been able to chat to for a couple of hours, I balked. It all felt so forced and unnatural.
I made out with a couple of guys. One groped me like we were at a grade nine party, the other grabbed my hand and, out of nowhere, pushed it down onto his hard-on. Both times, I fled. This was when I started to realize that I couldn’t just shag someone for the sake of it to end my enforced celibacy.
The introspection of lockdown had made me realize one thing: I didn’t actually want a one-night stand at all. I wanted the next time I slept with somebody to be because I really wanted to do it. I wanted it to be with someone I really wanted to do it with. And coronavirus wasn’t providing me with a chance to get to know anybody properly. I don't want a repeat of Greg. I want to know the person I'm getting involved with. I want to make informed decisions about my body and my future.
And so this time around, in lockdown 3.0, I have zero interest in walking around a freezing cold park with a stranger while I try not to wet myself. I have deleted my dating apps. Even my vibrator is getting a break. My libido has almost completely waned.
This is the longest I’ve gone without sex in my adult life and after a year out, it’s like my sex drive has slowly shut off. Maybe it’s a survival thing. I no longer have the energy to get worked up about what I’m missing. It’s easier to just try and put it all to the back of my mind until things improve. Right now, the world is in its darkest hour and even though it feels like we will turn the tide in a few months’ time, there’s no escaping that. I could worry about dating, about shagging, about my future, but something deep inside me has switched. It feels better to focus on the things I can try and control: not bringing the virus into my home, making sure that family and friends are safe, eating well, exercising, watching shitloads of Below Deck. And if my year of enforced celibacy turns into 18 months, so be it.
*Name has been changed