Arun Venugopal: Welcome to The Takeaway. I'm Arun Venugopal in for Tanzina. [music] Let's talk about sex, baby Let's talk about you and me Let's talk about all the good things And the bad things that may be Let's talk about sex.
Arun Venugopal: Yes, people let's talk about it, or specifically sex during a pandemic. Even though many of us have largely stayed at home in recent months that doesn't mean people have stopped seeking companionship. Here's the nation's top infectious disease expert, Dr. Anthony Fauci, weighing in on the potential risks of meeting someone new in-person.
Dr. Anthony Fauci: Everybody has their own tolerance for risks, and it depends on the level of the interaction that you want to have. If you're looking for a friend, sit in a room, put a mask on, and chat a bit. If you want to go a little bit more intimate well, then that's your choice regarding the risk.
Arun Venugopal: That was Dr. Fauci, speaking with Snapchat's Good Luck America, back in April. We're also hearing from you about what the pandemic is meant for your sex lives at 877-8-MY-TAKE.
Amy: Hi, my name is Amy. I'm calling from Ferndale, Washington. Do you want to know how the pandemic has affected my sex life? What sex life? The kids are home every gosh darn minute of the day.
Marc: This is Marc Mannheimer and I'm calling from Bradford, Massachusetts. What sex life? As I live alone and obviously cannot have any kind of intimate contact, that really does not exist for me now.
Speaker 1: Calling from Anchorage, Alaska. We have a system worked out now where I'm working from home due to COVID-19 distancing. Our two kiddos are at a daycare or grandparent's house for school. My husband has been able to come home for lunch and dessert.
Diana: Hey, this is Diana from Hot Springs, Arkansas. COVID has totally messed up our sex life. We have a 17-year-old. He knows what's going on and he's home all the time.
Debbie: Debbie in Fort Lauderdale. How has the pandemic affected my sex life? Well being in fear of your health and financial well-being is not a turn on. I'll never believe a steamy sex scene in a disaster movie again. [music] Let's talk about all the good things And the bad things that may be Let's talk about sex.
Arun Venugopal: With us today to continue this conversation is Lisa Bonos, who writes about dating and relationships for The Washington Post. Hi, Lisa.
Lisa Bonos: Hi. Thanks for having me.
Arun Venugopal: You've written about the etiquette of hooking up and how that's changed these past few months. Tell me about some of the main changes.
Lisa Bonos: Like some of your callers just mentioned, a lot of people aren't seeing new partners right now. There's a lot of isolation, but some people are out there dating and just asking a lot of questions about their potential partner's lives right now, who are you quarantining with? How strict is that? Are you wearing a mask when you're out? Things like that.
Arun Venugopal: These are the kind of questions that perhaps in a previous era might have been seen as just completely the things you would not talk about if you want to flirt with someone or take it any further, correct?
Lisa Bonos: For sure.
Arun Venugopal: We're talking about this at the same time, you've described this term of sex recession happening more broadly, correct?
Lisa Bonos: Yes. Big surveys in 2019 found that especially young people 18 to 29, about a quarter of them hadn't had sex in the past year. We're already going before the pandemic, a lot of people were not getting intimate that often and now you have these extra difficulties. A lot of people are experiencing even more celibacy or more extreme celibacy.
Arun Venugopal: How are people actually meeting their potential hookup partners during the pandemic given all these restrictions?
Lisa Bonos: I spoke to a 25-year-old man who actually met someone on a Zoom happy hour. He describes it to me as like, "I thought this one square was cute," and later finds out that she's a friend of a friend and started texting with her. People are also meeting on dating apps. Dating apps are reporting larger traffic numbers that more people are on there. Friends are introducing friends to one another. Yesterday I heard from a woman who's starting-- She's just a normal person, not a professional matchmaker. She started a pool where she sets people up for phone calls all over the country or even the world and she's been doing that for 600 people recently.
Arun Venugopal: Do you think that is as this goes on and on that's perhaps changing people's willingness to just take risks?
Lisa Bonos: Yes. I think is carrying on a conversation with someone long distance is that a risk or is that being safe? I think our notion of what a risk is right now is changing. Some young people that I spoke to, for my reporting have said because they're so stressed out and so lonely and the isolation is so extreme, they're more willing to take a risk physically because they just really want to connect with someone. Seeing things all over the board.
Arun Venugopal: Some of this feels very new. At the same time, if you look back at say, life in the '80s, especially if you're gay or lesbian, LGBTQ community has a much longer history of thinking through some of these issues. Are you seeing different dimensions of this when it comes to members of the LGBTQ community?
Lisa Bonos: Yes. When I speak to LGBTQ daters, they often talk about already having these really personal conversations about what your health is like before getting physical. That gay daters on dating apps will ask, "When was the last time you were tested for a sexually transmitted infection, or are you taking PrEP, the prophylactic drug to prevent HIV infection?" A lot of daters are already used to having these really intense personal conversations. Just to add on top of that, "Hey, how have you been quarantining? What's your pod like?" Is just a natural extension of that.
Arun Venugopal: A lot of this has to do with just the basic stress, economic stress, and health risks and the basic of whether or not we're going to get sick on any given day, that does a lot to just the issue of desire, doesn't it?
Lisa Bonos: For sure. When I spoke to a sexuality researcher at the Kinsey Institute, he talked about how these are such anxious times and very stressful and people are worried about their livelihoods, and that definitely tames down desire. You get that in couples and for singles.
Arun Venugopal: Before we go, one of the things that seems to have opened up is just the fact that a lot of people are alone, they're by themselves. They have to figure out just how to find pleasure on their own. The New York City Department of Health, somewhat famously released a list of safe sex practices spring leading with the line "You are your safest sex partner." Do you see a lot more people talking openly about masturbation?
Lisa Bonos: You do see that. You also see people trying forms of virtual intimacy for the first time. I speak to daters who talk about trying sexting for the first time or cybersex and there's all ways to try that out. That is the safest sex you can have as well.
Arun Venugopal: That's right. I guess some people are actually discovering that perhaps there is romance to be found in the cold grid of a Zoom conversation. [laughter]
Arun Venugopal: I'm curious about something you've written out, which is the velocity of relationships during COVID-19. How has that changed?
Lisa Bonos: Some singles are spending several weeks or months getting to know someone over the phone or video chat before meeting in-person or they're going on socially distant dates, and not going into each other's apartments for several dates. It's really made people get to know each other better before either meeting up in-person or getting physical with each other.
Arun Venugopal: Some people you've spoken to, experts think that this is a good thing, this is a healthier thing.
Lisa Bonos: No, experts often mentioned that the fact that people are getting to know each other at a deeper level is helping those singles form stronger connections which before if you've ever been on a dating app, you have to make decisions within seconds, whether to swipe right or left, to discard someone or say yes. Those quick decisions were also translated into first dates, but not a lot of second dates or quick messages and not meeting up in-person. When it's harder to make these connections, people are spending more time with each connection that they do have trying to really get to know the person before saying yes or no.
Arun Venugopal: Do you think most of these things are just temporary and lasts only as long as this pandemic lasts or do you think some of these are what we're seeing some potentially long-lasting changes to people's relationships and sex lives in this country?
Lisa Bonos: It's really hard to know. I hope that at least that notion of getting to know someone on a deeper level before deciding whether or not to pursue a relationship with them, I hope that one sticks and that-- Because the daters that I'm speaking to really are finding utility in that and getting to know each other. It is also frustrating sometimes, especially if people are quarantining far away from each other, or they're staying with all their relatives or lots of roommates. There's definitely some frustration right now, but I'm hoping that there are some good things that come out of this that do stick.
Arun Venugopal: I guess, do you think that people who might have not been in a relationship for a while are deciding now that they've been too picky that they need to be a little more accommodating if you will. I feel like I'm using all these old man terms. This is an ongoing conversation about like, when do you settle? When do you just have to make compromises and do you think a moment when these issues are really being brought out?
Lisa Bonos: They are. It's hard to say whether that will stick as well. One couple that stands out to me is I have been talking to this couple where the woman hadn't been in a relationship for over a decade, and she struck up a phone conversation relationship with someone 3,000 miles away and they got so close that she drove across the country from New York to California to pick up and meet her new boyfriend for the first time and bring him back with her to New York. Now they've been quarantining together for months. That was the only way they could see each other. He couldn't just hop on a plane for a weekend. They had to make this big decision. Are we doing this or are we not? They decided they were doing it. Just as many daters are deciding, "I'm going to sit this one out. I'll wait until the pandemic is over."
Arun Venugopal: Wow. That's like old fashioned, almost antiquated idea of romance you forgot existed anymore, it seems like.
Lisa Bonos: Exactly, and we're still capable of it, apparently.
Arun Venugopal: Apparently. Yes. Lisa Bonos writes about dating and relationships for The Washington Post. Lisa, thanks so much for joining us today.
Lisa Bonos: Thanks for having me. [music]
Chris: This is Chris from Richmond, California. My wife and I got pregnant on the second week of the Shelter-in-Place order. Now we know about six other couples that are in the same situation.
Liz: Hi, this is Liz from Florida. I'm hearing so many stories about people having so much sex all the time on quarantine and that's just not my experience. The stress and anxiety and depression that has come with this experience has wreaked havoc on mine and my partner's libido. We haven't had sex in a month.
Marc: This is Marc Mannheimer and I'm calling from Bradford Massachusetts. What sex life? As I live alone and obviously cannot have any intimate contact, that really does not exist for me now. I, in essence, do not have a sex life.
Leah: Hi, this is Leah from Somerset. As far as the pandemic affecting my sex life, at the beginning of the pandemic I had sex a lot more out of boredom, and because of we were stuck at home together and had lots of time. As it has dragged on, our underlying stress and anxiety have increased and we have become less intimate less often.
John: Hi, this is John Abbott calling from Hopewell, New Jersey. My significant other lives an hour's drive away, which never bothered us over the past three and a half years. While we do miss each other on every level, we also recognize the importance of intimacy, but we agreed that intimacy is always worth the wait and not worth the risk of a potentially fatal illness.
Darnell Jefferson: This is the Takeaway call us at 877-8-MY-TAKE to comment on any story or give us your thoughts on any topic. Also, we're on Facebook and Twitter @TheTakeaway. Let us know what you think. Thanks for listening. [music]
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