Publications Hand Out Gold Stars for COVID Celibacy—But Are They Actually Earned?

People are still having promiscuous sex, but nobody is going on the record about it.

Nobody wants to openly flout COVID-19 guidelines–save for MAGA heads and Puerto Vallarta Instagays. But our new socially mandated puritanism goes beyond discouraging large indoor gatherings and other obvious super-spreader events. It’s effectively stigmatized all pleasure, including frivolous sexual intercourse.

Just once, it would be nice if we could speak honestly about hooking up during COVID: People are doing it, and not everybody is guarding their genitalia like Fort Knox, requiring self-quarantines before entry. To quote Denmark’s top health official (as I often do): “Sex is good. Sex is healthy.”

We’ve never acknowledged that fact in the U.S., and it’s only gotten worse during COVID. Understandably, news organizations don’t want to glamorize the most irresponsible among us. But it’s not shameful to have random sex right now, provided you’re avoiding those post-circuit party orgies. Sex can satisfy our cravings for intimacy and connection. It is also exciting. In a world bereft of spontaneity, the Grindr grid can be especially tantalizing. Each unmarked torso represents a new possibility–and an opportunity to be virtually gawked it. This girl needs attention.

But you won’t see anybody talking about their most recent one-night stand, unless they preface the story with a rigorous rundown of their own COVID pre-fuck checklist. The New York Times recently published a piece promising “true stories of hooking up during COVID-19.” The first woman interviewed gave us a glimpse into her search for a pandemic friends with benefits, along with her safety guidelines: a recent, negative COVID test, masks on their first couple of dates, and exclusivity.

My guidelines are a bit more simplistic: Are you hot?

I’m not mocking that woman, or the podcast host who self-quarantined after a date at an outdoor cafe, or the sales person whose level of sexual activity depends on the positive test rate in his area. They all possesses incredible discipline. I am jealous.

But should my relative lack of self-discipline turn into self-loathing? Judging by The Washington Post, GQ, The Boston Globe, and NPR–just to name four–I might be the only single person who isn’t demanding exclusivity from my pandemic sexual partners. But I know that can’t be the case. I see you online, at 2:25 a.m.

Don’t get me wrong–and this is where my own COVID pre-fuck checklist comes in–I have scaled back on my promiscuity. I spent the first several months of semi-lockdown as an alcoholic nun, spending countless nights alone on the couch, petrified of catching COVID from a fleeting sexual encounter. “That would really be pathetic,” I told myself.

But this summer, as COVID rates declined in my city, I opened up to some casual acquaintances. Now, I allow myself to feel the human touch about once per month, even though COVID cases continue to skyrocket. I don’t ask many questions and never demand to see a recent negative test. I’m most certainly a fool, but I don’t think I’m reckless.

I’m filling a need.

Every social encounter carries some risk. We’re now constantly engaged in a negotiation with ourselves, weighing each level of risk with the reward. I am willing to eat brunch inside with a friend; I am willing to have sex with an acquaintance. The risks probably aren’t equal, but neither are the benefits. The latter is infinitely more blissful.

In order to curtail the pandemic, we need to understand what’s going on. Contact tracing has largely been a failure, because people are hesitant to participate. Shaming drives behavior into the closet. Two of the sources in the NYT story were referred to by their middle names, in an effort to protect their jobs.

One of them talked about the pressure she feels to get married. What a salacious tale.

As we all know, nothing good ever comes from burying our sexual desires. Responsible random sex is possible and already happening, despite what you may read.

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1 Comment

  1. A nice light-hearted perspective on a necessity of life, bar nuns and… well, nuns. There’s a not-so-thin line between responsible encounters and whorish behavior. Personally, I’m anxious for the clubs to swing their doors wide open again. Good work, Alex.

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