Alice had at least three people in her sex rotation in the before times.
But since last March, the 29-year-old Virginian, who is bisexual and polyamorous, has tried to keep weeks-long windows between partners. It’s been unpleasant. “The lack of human contact and what it does to my heart and well-being is something I can physically feel,” she says.
Like many people’s, Alice’s sexual future is now at the mercy of large government organizations. That future is looking hopeful—the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has said that people who are fully vaccinated may gather indoors, and vaccines are becoming widely available to Americans over the age of 16. But for Alice, sex will never be the same.
“Everything is intimate now,” she says. “I used to just have sex with someone because I wanted to. Now I feel like I have to vet people.” She’s not sure if she’ll ever feel as secure as she used to, having sex. But sex—and intimacy—also feels more valuable than ever. “Being forced to be with one person at a time has made me get to know my partners better, to view them as companions, not commodities,” she says. “Now I realize how essential companionship is. It’s no longer disposable. It’s scarce, and precious.”
“I want to kiss, I want to get gross, I want a lot of spit.”
Jax, a 30-year-old comedian living in Brooklyn, is on the opposite end of the single-after-COVID spectrum. “I want to take a young lover,” she laughs, describing her post-vaccine plans. “I just want to be touched! Even a hug would be nice.” The thing she misses most isn’t sex, it’s making out. “I had sex with someone during coronavirus who I met on Bumble, and we didn’t even kiss,” she says. “It was so weird. I want to kiss, I want to get gross, I want a lot of spit.
“It’s going to be a very wet summer,” she predicts. “Very moist.”
It would be wild if people didn’t feel wild right now. We just passed the one-year anniversary of New York State’s Health Department officially advising people to have sex through holes in the wall. Psychologists have reported that people are “touch starved” and are experiencing “skin hunger.” For people who are single, having sex over the last year meant weighing desire against a willingness to risk your health, even your life. “It turns out I will not, in fact, die for this dick,” says Alice. Couples aren’t much better off; and if you’re the parent of young children who’s been following social distancing rules to a T, you haven’t had a babysitter in over 365 days. Something is about to blow.
It’s been a brutal pandemic (and it’s not over yet) but suddenly, so much seems…possible. Maybe condom sales will skyrocket, Zoom happy hours will be replaced by orgies, and the streets will run with cherry lube. After more than a year indoors, if you want a lot of sex, or true love, or a partner to parent your future children—well, you survived a pandemic; why not go for it? That could mean more sex, but it could also mean more honesty, more asking for what you want, more saying “No,” and more saying, “Yes, please.”
It feels possible that we’re on the brink of a cultural reckoning on sex, desire, and closeness. For women, who are born and die in a world that treats our desire is an afterthought, it seems likely that a year away from constant male sexual aggression will have a major impact. “After COVID I will be dating more than I normally would, meeting loads of new people, making up for lost time, and pushing more boundaries with dating and hookups,” says Abbie, a 19-year-old in the U.K. She hopes to date outside her “type,” and try new things in the bedroom.
Crystal*, a 21-year-old in Ohio, has lived with her parents throughout the pandemic and snuck out a few times to hook up with people. “To be honest, I don’t feel they were worth it,” she says. “It was nice to get out, but I also felt like, Why am I risking this for people I don’t even like or resonate with?”
Mya*, a 30-year-old in Los Angeles, is also rethinking the way she wants to date. “I’ve learned that it’s really important for me to have some power and control in my relationships, and it’s really okay if that means that a lot of dudes are not going to be into it,” she says. She lasted through a 14-month pandemic completely alone—not getting a text back from some guy she met on Tinder is not going to end her world.
“No vaccine, no vag-een.”
Regardless of sexual identity or relationship status, women have had a year to be in our own bodies with little input from the outside world. Maybe you got dressed more this year without worrying about how your boss or the parents at school drop-off would judge. Maybe you faced less catcalling, took a break from the mental workout of having to invent a fictional boyfriend when aggressive men won’t leave you alone. Maybe in the absence of regular dating, you had more time and space to think about what really feels good to you, what you like, what you want. Maybe the governmental mishandling of the pandemic has felt like such a profound waste of your time that you’re simply not willing to have any more time wasted. Whatever the past year of reflection has meant to you, women will be setting new rules this summer.
“No vaccine, no vag-een,” says Tara*, a 28-year-old in Wisconsin. “That’ll be my new rule.” (Turns out, that’s actually an old idea: Activists in the 1950s promoted polio vaccines with similar slogans—they proclaimed, “No shots, no dates.”) For Tara, the proliferation of vaccines doesn’t necessarily mean that safe(r) sex feels in reach. She watched, throughout the pandemic, as people in her conservative community proudly rejected masks and ignored scientists. About half of Republican men, an NPR-Marist poll found, say they will not take the vaccine when it becomes available. Only 6% of Democrats who are men say the same. “I feel like I’m going to have to interrogate people to make sure that they’re being safe so I don’t feel like I’m risking my life just to get some ass,” Tara says. “I’m going to quit having sex with Republicans.”
Of course, all sex carries risk. And after more than a year of feeling screwed over by the pandemic, there will likely be a rise in selfish sex. “I think fuckboys are definitely going to lie about getting the vaccine,” says Alice, who feels anxious when she contemplates sex and dating even after mass vaccination. She is one of the more than 30 million Americans who fell sick with COVID, and it changed her perspective on being single. “I remember my chest closing up, and I was having such a hard time taking a full breath that I couldn’t stand up without falling over,” she says. She became scared that she would die alone in her apartment, and nobody would even know. “As lame as it sounds, I’ve learned how important it is for humans to be close to each other,” she says.
Will we emerge transformed by an earnest appreciation for each other’s bodies, craving pure connection? Or simply out for all we can steal? “I hope dating is better now, cause before coronavirus, it wasn’t exactly the greatest thing,” says Jax. She dreams of “going to a bar, getting drunk with my friends, and just making out with a stranger. Having someone spit in your mouth, and not worrying about dying.”
Our culture is not designed to help women claim our own pleasure or get commitment without giving up some essential freedom. But after more than a year away from mainstream sex and dating culture, more women have gained a better sense of what they want, and deserve. Jax wants a messy makeout. Mya wants agency. Abbie wants more sex, hotter sex, and more experimental sex. Crystal wants better ~vibrations~. Tara wants respect and honesty. And Alice wants to feel the exquisite preciousness of human connection, without losing herself.
It’s going to be a long, hot, horny summer. When it’s safe for you, don’t forget sunscreen, a mask, and a condom if applicable. And don’t forget that you survived a major tragedy and a really, really tough year. You don’t have time to be slut-shamed, or play by sexist rules, or have bad sex. Welcome to your sweaty, sexy, self-finding summer.
*Name has been changed.
Jenny Singer is a staff writer for Glamour. You can follow her on Twitter.
Originally Appeared on Glamour