Too Hot to Handle: self-distanced love

Managing your sex life during a pandemic is even harder than it seems

Much like every other bored and quarantined individual, I found myself reluctantly pressing play on Netflix’s new and much-hyped latest attempt at capturing the Love Island audience. I was skeptical, but the premise of Too Hot to Handle was eerily similar to what appeared to be going on in our own dating lives. The contestants essentially have to work backwards from modern dating norms: first comes emotional connection, and intimacy eventually follows. In a world where it can seem like meaningless sex is more normal than wanting to “catch feels,” intimacy must have a meaning and be prefaced by a deep connection between the couple. For anyone dating during lockdown, whether you’re in a committed relationship, playing the field on Tinder, or calling exes frantically during moments of isolation, the concept of relearning the art of conversation hits a little too close to home. 

So how do we cope? From talking to friends and drawing from personal experience, things got a little weird but also wonderful. Phone sex, scrolling through Tinder, sending nudes, calling exes, holding first dates on Zoom, and masturbation seem to be the primary coping mechanisms we are gravitating towards. There is nothing harder for us as humans than being away from other humans, in both a biological sense and in a deeper, more emotional way. Even in a secure relationship, people find themselves in a tumultuous long distance affair, regardless of location. Humans thrive off of contact and interaction, and when those things are nearly impossible, there is no shame in getting creative. The poor, unfortunate souls who have moved home with their parents and are experiencing a distinct decrease in their sexual liberation have created the perfect storm for Tinder’s 3 billion swipes in a given day, the highest daily recorded user action in the history of the app. Since then, on 29 March 2020, Tinder has seen a 12% rise in daily conversations. 

Perhaps we will have gotten so used to virtual conversation that simply no-strings-attached sex won’t have the same appeal.”

Looking at relationships is a whole different ball game to dating. Suddenly, next door neighbours are in a long distance relationship, dinner dates are had over a candlelit Zoom call, and couples fall asleep next to one another on FaceTime rather than in each others’ arms. It’s such a unique life situation to be in and one has to wonder whether it was the making or breaking of dozens of relationships that had barely been getting by as is. Many couples experienced a wakeup call from being trapped with one another 24/7. Some finally spent time together aside from working, college and the general kerfuffle that life tends to be, only to discover that the spark they once had was gone once all the distractions were gone too. The lucky ones rediscovered each other and developed a newfound appreciation for quality time that is difficult to come by. 

The future after this nationwide casual sex hiatus will be an interesting one. Will it be a case that, as soon as we can, we’ll be all over each other again, making up for lost time? Or will it become a bigger deal to share your body with someone, to let them into your space? Will having sex be a bigger commitment, in terms of the dangers of physical contact, or a quicker seizure of the moment, because we know how bad it is to go without? Perhaps we will have become so used to virtual conversation that no-strings-attached sex simply won’t have the same appeal. Distance makes the heart grow fonder and all, but perhaps we’ll be so sick of exclusively texting and teasing each other that we won’t want to anymore and honesty about intentions will finally be at the forefront of any daters’ mind.

We’re only human, and God knows there’s no manual for how to have sex during a global pandemic.”

I can’t help but think of the thousands of conversations people have had with little prospect of things progressing into real life within the sexual realm. Is it wrong to say that these conversations are meaningless? It seems that when we call those conversations meaningless, we’re also calling ourselves sex-obsessed, emotionless robots who can’t be satisfied through emotional chatter. No, they weren’t meaningless. In fact, these conversations reveal what we were missing in the bigger picture of the dating scene: it’s easy to have a one night stand, or to kiss someone and leave it at that. It’s even easier to get caught up in all of the hustle and bustle of your life and forget to actually converse with your significant other in addition to maintaining physical intimacy. In reality, those conversations are just as important as having sex with someone a different kind of vulnerability than taking your clothes off. Those conversations provide connections, no matter how fleeting. It may be strange not looking someone in the eye in order to develop an intimate relationship, but to brand all of the moments that millions of people shared as meaningless, no matter how fleeting or inconsequential, is incorrect. 

Nothing that we do to cope with this crisis is meaningless. It shouldn’t matter if we are sending nudes or spending hours on end talking on FaceTime. Our sex lives are an integral part of who we are and that should be embraced and nurtured no matter the circumstances. Let’s stop the ongoing dating app-shame, or the phone sex taboo. However you are coping, you are coping. We’re only human, and God knows there’s no manual for how to have sex during a global pandemic.

Kerry O'Sullivan

Kerry O'Sullivan is the sex and relationships editor of Trinity News 2020/21 and is a senior fresh student of middle eastern and european languages and cultures.