Vaccinations are here, restrictions have eased, and people are officially in the streets again. After a year of limited human interaction, many are ready to mingle, date and explore intimate relationships. For single people, quarantine and safety guidelines totally changed the rules for how to go about it all. COVID restrictions increased online dating activity as well as alternative methods for getting to know someone new. But now that “outside” is open again, experts predict sex is to make a major comeback. Summer 2021 has already been coined, “Hot Vax Summer,” “The Whoring ’20s,” and “Shot Girl Summer.”
Historically, after deadly pandemics and plagues, huge sexual revolutions have followed. For example, back in the 14th Century, Eurasia and Northern Africa were struck with the Black Death, a bubonic plague that claimed between 75–200 million lives. As a result of that, Europe experienced an increase in sanctioned prostitution and hedonism. If history does indeed repeat itself, the general idea is clear: people are going to be having a lot of sex.
Although many singles are ready to dip their toes back in the deep end of the dating pool and be intimate again, is it safe to do so? ESSENCE spoke with sex and relationship expert Shan Boodram to get her opinion on how to successfully and safely prepare for the so-called “Summer of Sex.” She’s currently promoting Phexxi, a new hormone-free form of birth control for cisgender women that can be used right before a sexual encounter, as opposed to taken daily in advance for protection. Boodram has been using it since welcoming her first child, daughter Ryu, last fall, and says people looking to engage in sexual relationships currently should consider it.
“I think it’s important for us to ask that specific question: What should people do to gear up for connecting post-pandemic? And that is a unique question that’s going to come with a unique answer for each individual. So I think the most important thing that you possibly can do is ask yourself really important questions,” she says. “What am I looking for out of connections? What do I feel comfortable with? What am I willing to risk versus not risk? And what are some questions that I now want to add into my initial interview questions before I decide to spend time with somebody or not?”
She adds, “I think that you have to start asking yourself a series of questions about what do I want out of connection and how do I set myself up for success? And there is no, again, one-size-fits-all trend or series of things that everybody should be doing. I think that the pandemic taught us more than anything, that we can all go through something very similar, and each person can have extremely unique experiences. And I think that we should apply that same mindset to our intimate life.”
Understanding your non-negotiables as you prepare to make connections is essential to post-pandemic dating, and online dating sites are helping you stick to them. Bumble, Tinder, Hinge, Match, OKCupid, BLK, and Plenty of Fish have introduced new features that make it easier to swipe right for a match who’s vaccinated, for example.
“I like the idea. I think anything that forces people to disclose things about their health is probably never ideal, but the option to do so and encouraging people to do so is positive,” she says about the efforts being made. Boodram also believes one’s sexual health status is another topic that should be discussed as we get more comfortable talking openly about health in the time of COVID.
“There [are] a wealth of conversations around health that you can use. You can lean into the pandemic to start the conversation, to get the ball rolling, and then ask all the other really important things that we have been telling people for years should be a normal part of getting to know people,” she says. “And it can still be a sexy, fun, and very informative part of starting new partnerships.”
While there are people who are more than ready to get back out there, there are others who are hesitant. The recent Kinsey Institute post-pandemic sex study in partnership with Cosmopolitan and Esquire reported that 33 percent of the 2,000 people they surveyed wanted to wait longer to meet someone in person, and 37 percent also want to wait longer to have sex. How can singles who are not quite ready to fully engage in sex when so many are looking to make up for what they missed out on still date and feel comfortable? Playing it safe by leaning on what you embraced during quarantine is still an option.
“The pandemic gave us creativity when it comes to sexual intimacy options,” she says. “People purchased more sex toys than ever during the pandemic. People explored more when it came to their sexuality. I think like 25 percent of people tried something new when it came to their sex life. And for some people that something new was video chat. For some people that something new was again, buying a vibrator or buying a toy or engaging in online communities. Trying something new in general, I think is just a beautiful theme to keep with you as you go into this next phase of the world. Becoming more familiar, but hopefully more familiar when it’s more advantageous to you, because you’ve spent this time getting to know your body better, getting to know your needs better, starting to have more conversations around health, feeling like you’ve got jurisdiction over your health. Trying something new, for you, could be something like continuing video chat if that works great for you, continuing buying sex toys for self-pleasure. So when you do feel comfortable being around people you have all of your boxes checked, so you feel completely in control and liberated by those experiences.”
Summer 2021 may indeed live up to the expectations of more sex and less anxiety, or it could turn out to just be hot like any other summer. Whether you’re preparing to be vaxed and waxed or not, as we hope to soon get to the other side of this pandemic, take dating seriously and make choices that are best for your overall mental and sexual health. Stay authentic and proceed at your own pace.