Did COVID Kill Hookup Culture?

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It’s the final hour of the party: you’ve been eyeing the person next to you all night; smoke swirls around the room while morning creeps in and as they inch closer to you, you smell the alcohol on their breath and well… the rest is history. Sound familiar?

Now… not so much.

For some, sex has been on the backburner since the start of the pandemic. According to a diagram created by Gabrielle Kassel, LGBTQ+ journalist, in collaboration with Healthline, posted on Instagram, it’s completely normal for libido levels to fluctuate in ways not previously seen pre-pandemic. The diagram shows arrows moving up, down, staying stagnant, and jumping from highs and lows to represent libido over time.

According to the post, libido can fluctuate due to hormones, medication, level of physical activity, diet, age, sleep, and most importantly stress, anxiety, and depression. With a pandemic, riots and protests happening all across America, a shaky election, a lack of financial stability, and a climate crisis just to name a few, these strings of life-altering events can lead to the ~bedroom vibes~ feeling anything but sexy.

For others, being trapped in isolation for several months made them want to let their freak flag fly- and rightfully so. However, there’s a very fine line between letting it all out and keeping you and your surrounding close circle as safe as possible.

According to Sarah*, a 22-year-old-woman in New York City, being in isolation made her want to increase her number of partners significantly in order to cope.

“[COVID] definitely made me more of a hookup person for about a month. After being in quarantine for so long and then finally moving to a new city, I threw all caution to the wind. After realizing that my actions weren’t working with how I wanted to live and how I wanted to handle COVID, I all together stopped. I realized I was only being irresponsible when it came to sex since I was limiting my contact besides my random hookups.”

For Mo*, a 19-year-old in Boston, isolation is credited to being the reason why their current relationship did not work out.

They said, “The crushing silence of early quarantine made me really question the relationship I was in at the time. Without constant distractions, I realized how unhealthy it was, and I ended things. If not for quarantine, I think I would still be tolerating their treatment.”

No matter who you ask, answers are unanimous that isolation has changed them- whether it be positively or negatively. For many people, they learned more about themselves and/or their partner. With so much time inside with no distractions, this can undoubtedly cause relationship strains. According to a survey, done by a website called My Ex Back Coach, 31% of couples say the quarantine has been damaging. Many of these stressors have been caused by COVID- related trauma and spending 24/7 together.

The problem for some is that hooking up outside of their hub is not even accessible with shutdowns and curfews. For those, the pandemic has changed their mind completely on how to view the potential partners in their everyday life. Sarah believes that the pandemic is the reason why she finds herself in the relationship she is in today.

She and her then-friend-now-boyfriend started hooking up with each other as a way to be safe during the pandemic since they were close friends who were only interacting in the same pod. Throughout the curfews and shutdowns, she realized the more intimate time she spent with him the more she began to want to take their friendship to the next level.

“Me and one of my best friends had a cheesy friends-to-lovers fanfiction relationship that only happened because of COVID restrictions and having so much time to spend together.” She said, “I met up with two different random people on dating apps, and from my experience, a lot of New Yorkers are doing this...I think the pandemic showed the type of people willing to put themselves and others at risk for sexual pleasure, significantly cutting down the dating pool.”

For many, polyamorous relationships have still been able to operate as normal despite quarantine. However, for some, according to SF Gate, having to limit their number of partners due to social distancing rules has given them the appearance of monogamy, which has brought discomfort in their identity as polyam. Despite some having these feelings, many others have agreed it’s important to just be safe and communicate.

Mo, who identifies as polyamorous commented, “I'm polyamorous, so it's pretty typical for me to have multiple romantic and sexual partners at once who are all aware of each other...I am the friends-to-lovers trope personified and usually end up falling for people I have a strong, organically established bond with already. Most of my hookups (that haven't graduated) have been in my circle for a few years now...Because almost everyone I’m hooking up with is getting tested on the regular it really hasn’t affected [my polyamory] much.”

With the world at a standstill (hello one year anniversary), the possibility of partying has been obsolete. So, how are people meeting significant others who still brave the dating pool? Sure, there are apps like Tinder or Bumble, but the risks of getting the coronavirus, especially if you are immunocompromised, outweigh a couple of hours in bed with a stranger.

And while all jokes and cheesy introductory one-liners are put to the side, it’s important to start the “interrogation.” Are they taking the pandemic seriously? Do they enforce wearing masks? Do they keep their pod small?

Jane*, a 22-year old woman living in Boston agrees 100 percent that the ‘COVID talk’ has played a crucial role in hookups since the start of the pandemic. She said, “If my partner isn’t on the same page about safety and taking precautions, then I’m not about it. I think it’s hot when a guy takes the pandemic seriously.”

Mo also agreed saying, “I had to drop one of my favorite hookups because they're continuing to party as normal. As I said earlier, I'm immunocompromised and I have a heart condition. I'm not messing around right now and neither are my current partners, because -not to be dramatic- but this is kinda life or death for me.”

For those still choosing to hookup, the number one rule is to stay as safe as possible. According to Bumble, experts recommend still masking up.

“If you do have sex knowing that it’s a very risky choice, keep your mask on and try to avoid facing one another,” recommends Dr. Charlene Brown, a physician, and public health expert.

With one-night stands seeming a bit too dangerous, many are turning to more intimate relationships with a close friend (or themself) to ensure that they- and their closest bubble- remain safe.

According to a study published by the Kinsey Institute, only 1.1 percent of singles have admitted to hooking up with someone they met on a dating app since lockdowns began. According to Los Angeles Magazine, Trojan condom sales have plummeted and sex toy manufacturers are struggling just to meet demand.

So, with this in mind, what will be the future of apps like Tinder and Bumble, and hookup culture in general?

Although navigating the dating scene is anything but sexy right now, knowing that you’re not alone has been the light at the end of the tunnel for some, including Jane.

She said, [COVID] somehow has positively impacted my dating life and I’m still trying to figure out how that could be. I think just knowing you’re in the same boat as so many people in terms of a social life or lack thereof, has given me a boost of confidence I didn’t know I needed. It’s provided me with clarity that I can’t just wait around for the right guy to come along; I’ve had the power all along.”

If this pandemic has taught us anything, it’s that we don’t need to rely on meaningless hookups to make us feel happy. Instead, it’s forced us to dig deeper and open up meaningful conversations about self-love and more intimate relationships with the people in our lives.

*Names of those interviewed have been changed in order to protect their privacy and keep them anonymous.