What pandemic dating can teach us about connecting during the time of Corona
Many were expecting a reprieve from Covid-19 and a return to a sense of normalcy during the summer, but we have now learned that the warmer weather alone won’t save us from coronavirus. With confirmed cases of over 20 million globally and 5 million in the U.S., people are struggling to contain the spread of the COVID-19 while also balancing the need to live life. During this time of ever changing public-health advice and the politicization of wearing masks, people are trying to figure out how to connect safely with friends, lovers, and loved ones.
In my research about online dating, I have noticed that people who were out in the dating world when Covid hit were ahead of the curve in trying to figure out how to connect during a pandemic. Here is what I have seen and how we might learn from survival dating as we all figure out how to manage connection during the time of Corona.
When it comes to dating and hooking up, many women and sexual minorities tend to be more cautious about meeting strangers for safety reasons, but with the emergence of COVID, dating has become a risky proposition for everyone. Nevertheless, dating apps report increases in traffic as the homebound and unpartnered turned to them for social interaction.
My research about online dating suggests that people are doing more than just swiping, but rather engaging in what I call “survival dating.” With pandemic dating, many people have been chatting longer to get to know each other before meeting — a change many have welcomed. In relation to Covid, people are having candid conversations about risk, lifestyle, social network size, COVID risk tolerance, and the implications for others within their personal networks. Survival daters were quick to apply familiar frameworks around STI transmission, harm-reduction, and sexual health as a decision matrix for whether and when to connect with others, regardless of mandates.
These strategies for “safer socializing is harm reduction, a theory that abolishes the all-or-nothing approach to risk and disease.” Countries attempting to balance public health with the need for interpersonal connection were quick to adopt harm-reduction approaches to dealing with the challenges of quarantine on emotional health. In early May, Canada instituted a law allowing two households to pair up — creating a “double bubble” — to slowly increase people’s social contact circles. England eased proximity restrictions to allow single-adult households to form a “support bubble” with one other household. In mid-May, the Netherlands made an exception to the stay-at-home law for people who live alone to connect with a friend or “sex buddy” to combat mental health concerns resulting as a consequence of isolation.
And while there are many people who are struggling with loneliness as a result of social distancing mandates, people are also finding ways to get their needs for intimacy, touch, and sex met, albeit on a smaller scale. A recent survey in Washington state conducted in May by PCAF (Pierce County AIDS Foundation) showed that in a sample of 98 individuals, almost 40% had reduced the number of their sexual partners since the onset of the pandemic. “Generally, we’re seeing that people are reducing riskier sexual behavior alongside public health guidance for COVID-19”, said Erica Crittendon, Prevention Team Lead.
In June, the New York City Department of Health released an updated “Safer Sex and covid-19 fact sheet″ suggesting that “During this extended public health emergency, people will and should have sex.” The sex-positive fact sheet draws from the lessons learned during the AIDS crisis and was inspired by the 1983 pamphlet “How to Have Sex During an Epidemic”. According to Dr. Daskalakis, “Abstinence for the duration of the pandemic is not going to work.” The new guidelines takes a sex-positive approach and outlines harm reduction strategies including the importance of open communication, reminding people to “Talk about COVID-19 risk factors, just as you would discuss PrEP, condoms, and other safer sex topics.”
Until we have a vaccine, the CDC reminds citizens that “there is no way to ensure zero risk of infection” and that people need to “understand potential risks and how to adopt different types of prevention measures” if we are to reduce the spread of COVID-19. My research shows that while there are still plenty of people who won’t go near anyone new without donning a full latex dominatrix bodysuit, many are choosing to “COVID bond” with select friends, family members, and lovers, opting to share space and air — unimpeded by barriers (such as masks or gloves) — after communicating risk and employing harm-reduction strategies in order to do so without social distancing.
Harm-reduction approaches provide a tool for protecting our health in the face of a highly transmittable virus that can be passed by people who don’t display symptoms. Experts suggests that “not taking a harm-reduction approach is simply denial, and it will inevitably backfire.” Infectious disease expert Dr. Anthony Fauci warned that the pandemic is “a serious situation that we have to address immediately.”
We can learn from the lessons of survival daters and utilize “harm reduction” approaches embraced by public health experts to find much needed interpersonal connection during these uncertain and trying times. Take a Covid Care approach “to build trust through communication to co-create a healthier social expansiveness”. Staying healthy — both mentally and physically — is vital to all of us as we find new ways to communicate and navigate interpersonal relationships during this pandemic.
Communicate openly and honestly, connect mindfully, and be safe out there!