It’s the sequel nobody asked for. COVID: The Redux, coming soon (or now!) to a Canadian city near you. After a summer that saw case counts getting smaller, social circles getting bigger, and horny singles finally meeting up with their Zoom crushes IRL, it’s time to scale back (sigh). But what exactly does that means for your sex and dating life? Our situation-by-situation guide to getting it on (safely) in the second wave below.
Uncertainty is an entirely appropriate emotion at this particular moment in our pandemic trajectory, as we stare into a fall/winter season that feels like a throwback to spring. We had a good run there, but suddenly case counts are spiking all over the country and that innocent, Insta-worthy stroll through the autumn leaves may not be worth the risk. “Don’t meet with anyone outside of your house,” is the word from Toronto’s top doc Eileen de Villa. Peel’s medical health officer Lawrence Loh put it even more bluntly: “No new friends.”
Granted, rates are higher in some areas than others, with most hot spots landing in high-density cities. These stats are important to be aware of. Just as important though — your roommate’s feelings. “Normally decisions and communication around sex and dating are between you and the other person, but now you need to think about the comfort and safety of everyone around you,” says Dr. Jessica Wood, a lead researcher at the Sex Information and Education Council of Canada. This is particularly true for people who live under the same roof — bubblemates by default. So the point is not who’s “right” here, rather what you can agree on. It’s true, spending socially distanced time outdoors with another person ranks pretty low on the risk scale, but there is a risk, and during a global health pandemic, tie goes to the Nervous Nelly.
Tell your roomie you’ll take your love life on line (for now), as long as she agrees to skip her cousin’s upcoming indoor wedding. And then try to see upside. Because let’s be honest, dating is a numbers game and most first dates don’t require a second. This way you can get a sense of a perspective match without zero risk and zero reason to put pants on.
Dilemma 2: I can’t go back to Zoom dates. A love interest will seem promising, but without the physical connection, by the third date I’m totally over it.
It’s called the Facetime fizzle, and it’s definitely a thing — usually setting in somewhere between the second and fourth online meetup when the small talk starts to feel tedious and you find yourself discreetly* scrolling through your Insta (*totally not discreet, btw), while the other person tells you about their day.
The problem has less to do with the other person and more to do with pace. To paraphrase Kanye, slow motion is fine, but no motion — not so much. “You need to have a sense of momentum, otherwise things are going to get boring,” says Shan Boodram, Canadian intimacy educator and host of the Quibi show Sexology. The bases may be different in COVID times, she says, but they are still there: “If you are someone who started dating during the social-media era, then talking to someone new on the phone can be a radical act.” From there, you can move to a face chat to joining each others' “close friends” list on Insta to some form of cyber sexuality, if that’s your thing.
If it’s not, no problem. “There are a lot of ways to build intimacy that don’t involve getting physical,” says Wood. To avoid the fizzle, you need to feel emotional progression from one encounter to the next, so skip the small talk and opt for conversation topics that require some level of personal disclosure. **Warning for TMI types**: That doesn’t mean diving into your deepest darkest secret on date one. “The whole point is that you’re building trust (and intimacy) as you go,” says Woods. This list of “36 Questions That Lead To Love” is a good cheat sheet (ordered from least to most probing, so go in order). Or come up with your own topics. Note: Your favourite colour is not a reveal. Further note: Shared experiences are another way to connect, so if you’re sick of chatting, try doing something: make a recipe together, take a walk around your (separate) neighbourhoods, or watch a concert while fantasizing about the time when you can finally hookup for real. COVID may be constricting at the moment, but it’s kind of the ultimate foreplay.
Dilemma 3: I started seeing someone in September, before things got bad again. I like her a lot, but definitely not enough to move in together.
To sex bubble or not to sex bubble, that is
the question one of a whole lot of questions to consider as you figure out how to move forward in a relationship. Maybe it seems early to be having conversations around intentions, but in COVID times, transparency is more important than ever. “A lot of people I’m talking to are thriving in new relationships and the reason is that we’re being a lot more direct about what we’re looking for,” says Boodram. Questions that used to be awkward (I’m not seeing other people, are you seeing other people?) are suddenly essential, so if you haven’t gone there already, hop on a Zoom call and have at it.
If you’re even considering a relationship bubble, a state of the union should involve not just romantic intentions, but COVID vulnerabilities and risk comfort. “If you’re someone who is having your groceries delivered and the other person is out partying without a mask on, it’s probably best to break things off,” says Boodram. (As far as parting gifts go, potentially fatal virus would be a pretty crappy one).
Dilemma 4: I got a negative test result and so did the person I’ve been seeing. Can we have sex without masks on?
First off, congrats on not having COVID! Let’s go ahead and assume that your reason for getting tested was in accordance with provincial guidelines, which have gotten a lot stricter in the last few weeks. Quick reminder that extreme horniness is not a valid reason. And also that a negative test — while a great and a useful piece of information — is not a silver bullet for your sex life. “It just means that you were COVID-free at the time that you were tested,” says Wood. It can take a few days after exposure to test positive (just ask anyone in the White House) and there is also the period between getting the test and getting your result. Unless both you and your partner have spent that time in quarantine, you should be following the same guidelines as everyone else.
Which means, yes, it’s a good idea to wear a mask during sex with anyone outside or your household (a recommendation that comes straight from Canada’s COVID resistance queen Theresa Tam). COVID is not an STI, but kissing, heavy breathing, screaming your partner’s name at the top of your lungs — these are all high-risk behaviours when it comes to the swapping droplets, so best to think of masks as the new condoms. (Note: condoms are still the old condoms, and more important than ever since access to standard sexual healthcare may be restricted during the second wave.) It’s not that your negative result doesn't matter. Just that it’s not a reason to throw caution out the window. Also since booking a test appointment is currently the new scoring front-row Hamilton tickets, it’s important to understand other risk-mitigation strategies. Choose positions that limit face-to-face contact, get a clear sense of your partner’s risk profile in advance, and don’t even think about hooking up with anyone who won’t wear a mask because it just doesn’t feel the same.