In terms of bad years for getting laid, 2020 will go down in the history books as one of the worst.
Thanks to COVID-19, singles considering casual hookups were forced to ask themselves, “is dick really worth dying for?” (Even Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders recently rued the sad state of sex among single people.) Meanwhile, cohabitating couples complain that their sex drives have drastically plummeted, and polyamorous couples have become considerably less poly due to social distancing.
A year into the pandemic, if you were to ask most people how their sex lives were going a la Tommy Wiseau, you’d probably hear some variation of “eh, could be a lot better” or “ugh, ask me again after I’m vaccinated.”
Earlier in the pandemic, the New York City Department Of Health reminded folks that sex with yourself is the safest option. Many did just that, pushing aside their day-to-day horniness for an entire year to help slow the spread of COVID-19.
We spoke to eight people who’ve gone a year without sex ― in some cases, longer ― due to the coronavirus.
Responses have been lightly edited for style and clarity.
Bret, a 39-year-old in Oklahoma
“I had sex last on March 8, 2020. I had a busy work week ahead, and to cut the stress, I found random trade on Grindr like any single gay on the go would do. I made the choice to not have sex since then for my safety.
Then I was vaccinated as a part of the Moderna trial in September. I found out I [had received an actual vaccine] in January and have continued to be sex-free because the dangers to others is still unclear. Vaccinated people may be able to pass it on to others, and I would feel terrible if I got someone else sick. Now that more and more people are vaccinated, I hope my situation changes soon!
My attitude about sex has changed a bit. I have found a lot more productive uses of my time. I’ve never been a fan of masturbation, so I have poured all the extra time usually used for Grindr and trips to the bar on self improvement. I’m reading three new books a week and have lost 60 pounds during the pandemic. Even after things are back to normal, I’ll likely invest less time in looking for sex.
I feel like I learned a lot about the people around me and who prioritizes pleasure over their safety and the safety of others. It will be hard to sincerely trust those people again after all this. When I see people still risking it and hooking up, I try not to judge, but I am a Virgo and can’t help myself. I totally feel like a martyr and am calling people out left and right for endangering themselves and others.
On a scale of 1-10, my sex drive is at 200.”
Sandra, a 50-year-old living in France
“The last time I had sex was a little more than a year ago. I am a happily single woman, and my ex and I would regularly hook up. I had other brief affairs, but he was, so to speak, my ‘regular,’ probably because it was comfortable being with him. Then last year, on March 16, our country went into lockdown: We had to work from home, we couldn’t travel or mingle with anyone outside of our home. To me, and to many, the situation was shocking and a real source of stress, as we didn’t know much about the virus. It didn’t even cross my mind to go against the rules laid out by our government and the scientific community, so I decided my regular hookups had to stop right there, right then. I’m a teacher, so I’m in contact with students and colleagues every day. Sex seemed like a definite no-no!
At this point, a year later, I can’t say I miss sex. I even got used to playing it solo more than I usually used to. Even my relationship with my ex has changed: I’ve stopped fantasizing about our next encounter and I decided I didn’t want to see him anymore. On a scale of 1-10, I’d say my sex drive is a five. I have had a few offers from guys I really like, and turning them down hasn’t been difficult at all. Quite a change from my usually sex-driven self!”
“I’ve grown closer to myself, sometimes further away. It’s complicated. But I believe that is why my next sexual experience with another will feel different. I’m optimistic it will be special.”
Jade, a 25-year-old living in North Carolina
“Well, to be fair, it’s been a little over two years since I have had sex. I’m a lesbian, so sex is already arguably a little harder to find, but the pandemic has of course exacerbated that. Before COVID, I just hadn’t really met anyone worth having sex with since my last hookup. And then, once the pandemic hit, I just stopped pursuing casual hookups and dating altogether.
I’m high-risk, and the person I live with is also high-risk, so it seemed like the obvious thing to do to not put myself in situations where I’m very likely to catch or spread the virus.
Honestly, I’m afraid I’m going to forget to have sex if I keep going without it. But even that does not concern me that much. Maybe it’s because of the medications I take, but I don’t really care for having sex right now either way. I’m pretty indifferent.
I see all these people not just risking it all for casual hookups but for parties and vacations too, and I feel like I’m making a mistake forgoing sex even though I also see it as the right thing to do in my situation. Still, out of 1-10, my sex is probably like a one, which is probably why not having sex for so long doesn’t seem like that big a deal to me.”
Roger, a 50-year-old living in Austin, Texas
“I’m a bi/pan/queer divorced cis male who last had sex in either late February or early March of 2020. I had been seeing a pansexual polyamorous married woman ― who had a lesbian as her primary sex partner, married to an asexual husband ― for a short time and having lots of fun with her when all hell broke loose. I wasn’t willing to continue seeing someone who had other partners, as I am high-risk for COVID-19-related complications and I also have a kid who goes back and forth between my home and the other co-parent’s home.
We texted about the lockdown situation and were like, ‘OK, well, let’s just be friends for now and send each other memes until we’re able to pick up where we left off.’ Once it became apparent that this [gestures around at everything] was going to be a longer-term situation, texting kind of dropped off. Around the time of lockdown, I also had plans to meet up with someone from OkCupid who seemed like a great prospect, but again, lockdown interfered with it, and as things like SXSW started getting canceled and people were hoarding toilet paper and such, we decided yeah, maybe let’s try to stay in contact with an eye towards meeting up at a later date. We texted a few months later just to say hi, but that’s been it.
So yeah, it’s kinda sucked. Good news is that I’ve been in therapy and am coming to terms with perhaps only being sexually and not really romantically attracted to women, so this rather long dry spell has been good, as it’s forced me to take a look at what I want out of relationships and to look forward to perhaps one day maybe actually trying to date a male-identified person, instead of just hooking up with them.”
Lisa, a 24-year-old living in St. Louis, Missouri
“This pandemic was [about] more than sex or lack thereof. It was about survival, grief, fear, pain and hope. This last year has uncontrollably tested me in intense and unexpected ways. In the past, my sexual journey has been questionable, purposeful, uncomfortable, fulfilling and sometimes magical, but I chose to grow closer to myself and finding my own pleasures in life inside and outside of the bedroom. Learning to touch and enjoy my fragile yet rapidly changing body (thanks, COVID-19, for pushing me to make homemade bread) has taught me more about my sex life than actual experiences with different people.
Not having physical and intimate touch in over a year has been difficult, yet also convenient. I’ve grown closer to myself, sometimes further away. It’s complicated. But I believe that is why my next sexual experience with another will feel different. I’m optimistic it will be special. I have always believed in loving myself no matter what I look like. Maintaining that belief has been challenging, but again — I will choose growth in every opportunity I get in this life.”
“A year into sheltering in place, I have experienced every facet of grief in regards to my sex life. Or, more accurately, lack thereof.”
Justin, a 28-year-old living in Tennessee
“The last time I had sex was May 11, 2019. I had driven down to Atlanta to visit one of their gay bathhouses, a last hoorah before I had surgery to remove my rectal cancer —and with it, my anus, rectum, and a portion of my colon. I knew I would never have (receptive) penetrative sex ever again and my searches at home to find a partner — maybe someone I knew, liked, trusted — didn’t pan out. So I made a strange, sort of sneaky pilgrimage to get absolutely railed one last time in my entire life. I had no idea I would go without any sex of any kind for this long after that chance night at a bathhouse.
I’m a very sex-positive person, and I try not to believe in shame, so going from such a free, open attitude on sex to shutting it down completely was tough. Especially because heteronormativity and ‘hetero norms’ tend to funnel queer folks like myself into lionizing and valorizing our sex lives as such integral parts of our identities. I put so many proverbial eggs in the ‘sex positive’ basket that, when COVID and cancer conspired to take sex away from me, I didn’t have much — if anything else — to turn to. Not only to process the enormous losses of both cancer and COVID, but also to process my new embodiment and explore my new sexuality. The procedure that removed the mass in my rectum causes erectile dysfunction in most people with penises who undergo that procedure. So not only was bottoming taken away from me, everything else was too, even masturbation.
A year into sheltering in place — I’ve only left my apartment for longer than a few hours twice in that time — I have experienced every facet of grief in regards to my sex life. Or, more accurately, lack thereof. I’m angry. Angry that cancer took away so much of my sexuality and angry that ableism has taken away the rest.
A month after the COVID shutdown, U.S. porn stars, ‘Gay Twitter’ personalities, sex workers and seemingly all dating app users just ... started having sex again. There wasn’t much discussion around it, some joking surrounding some awkward guidance from the CDC around sex and COVID, but generally, everyone just started fucking again. My sexual frustration has snowballed into just ... frustration. So much anger. Not bitterness or wallowing or resentment necessarily, but anger. Usually the constructive kind, but not always.
But I have gained a lot of insight and knowledge about myself and my new embodiment in this year. I now know my sexuality and libido don’t hinge on a (namely, my) phallus. Letting go of the toxic masculinity inherent in a phallus as a focal point for pleasure has been such a relief. I so enjoy tuning in to eroticism for eroticism’s sake now, instead of just as a means to an end. I think I’ve also realized that without a phallus as a focal point of my own pleasure, I think that I’m a gay bisexual? Needless to say, spending a year indoors with just my cat and my mind has left plenty of time to turn this sex thought problem over and over and over again. There’s some pleasure just in that process, too.”
Kiara, a 35-year-old living in Canada
“I was in a long-term relationship for about eight years, which ended in November 2019. I didn’t rush to date after that. So after a few months of adjustment and a couple more of enjoying being single, that lands us in March of 2020, and my area was put into full lockdown. I didn’t see anyone for many weeks, not even close family.
As restrictions started to be lifted right before summer 2020, it would have been prime dating time. I’d gone on a diet in isolation and I felt really good about myself, but I had elderly grandparents who I hadn’t been able to see for a long time and who live a couple of hours away, and that was more important than dating. By abstaining, I was able to see them about once a month, after isolating for two weeks before every visit, and I’m so grateful that I did. My grandmother had dementia, and we were very close my entire life, so I wanted to spend as much time with her as I could before she forgot me.
She passed away last weekend, and I don’t regret that decision one bit. Now my grandfather is on his own, and the priority is being available for him, so I’ll remain abstinent and isolated for as long as is necessary.”
Ava, a 23-year-old living in Washington, D.C.
“The last time I had sex was December 2019 ―15 months ago ― with my then-partner. We were long-distance. A little less than a month later in January 2020, we broke up. I was really invested in the relationship and definitely didn’t feel like jumping into the dating (or hookup) pool anytime in the first two months after the breakup (at which point it was March 2020) and then, due to the pandemic, I ended up moving back in with my parents, one of whom is immunocompromised.
Although I haven’t lived with them for the entirety of the past year, they’ve been in my bubble the whole time, so I didn’t feel comfortable introducing a stranger into my bubble for that reason. I also hate dating apps — even once I got over my breakup, I would have wanted to meet someone in person, not online, so even if my parents weren’t in my bubble, I’m not sure I would have had sex in the past year.
I’m fairly indifferent about sex now. There are definitely days where I get frustrated and want to go find a stranger to sleep with … but most of the time, it’s not something I’m super conscious of (and I am still doing it on my own fairly regularly to keep myself satisfied). I’m not jealous of the people out there having sex. For the most part, people’s choices about hooking up during the pandemic are entirely their own. Due to my family situation, I won’t be spending time indoors and maskless (which seems like a requisite for sex) with anyone outside of my bubble ― my family plus two friends ― until we’re all vaccinated. But look, I get it, that’s not everyones’ situation!”