The coronavirus pandemic has brought about a new way of life for the British people. Many have lost their jobs, with the most recent unemployment rate soaring to 4.9% on the lead up to October which has left a total of 1.7 million people out of work. Many of us are left isolated in our homes: some experiencing redundancy and fear for the future, others isolated due to ill-health or their old age separating them from their loved ones.
Wasn’t it all just so much simpler before the pandemic? Compare the ease of opportunity to meet people, to work, to travel and to see our friends and family against the complexity and uncertainty of life as we know it now. These normalities seem like a distant memory, and it is difficult to recall life without the claustrophobia of mask-wearing, repetitive hand sanitising and awkward elbow touches for greetings. If our society wasn’t already teetering on the edge of a digital revolution then we can safely say that the pandemic has got the ball rolling. Remote working, home-schooling, university lectures and seminars online, group zoom calls, virtual gym classes, FaceTime dates. These new and impersonal ways of life threaten to become the permanent norm as we all wait anxiously to see what the future holds.
Yet I believe that it is not all doom and gloom. If we can look towards any positives that have evolved during this exceptional time, I believe one of those is the more frank and open conversations about sex which have been forced to take place. What the pandemic has brought to light is our society’s collective desire for physical intimacy: we are edging away from seeing casual sex as something indecent or excessive. Rather, sex is increasingly being considered as an absolutely essential factor to maintaining one’s mental well-being. However we British still seem to see the subject as unworthy of serious discussion; taboo even.
But not so for the Dutch! The Netherlands’ open-minded approach to intimacy during the pandemic seemed to lead the way on this progressive train of thought. Back in March, Dutch officials advised single people to find a regular seksbuddy: a likeminded individual you can link up with as long as you are both free of illness. This advice was issued after wide-spread frustration expressed by Dutch singletons. Journalist Linda Duits had openly criticised the RIVM’s (Dutch Health Ministry) announcements that all individuals should keep a 1.5 metre distance in home visits and argued that ‘proximity and physical contact are not a luxury, they are basic needs’. With demand increasing from the public, the RIVM conceded and acknowledged that effectively outlawing ‘sex for singletons’ was an unrealistic demand. Thus the seksbuddy initiative came in. Can we really imagine the British government following in the Netherlands’ footsteps, even if it proved to boost people’s well-being at this exceptional time?
Clearly not: of course the situation for the British public is somewhat different. For many months now the majority of England has been forced to swallow what is now being widely labelled as the government’s ‘casual sex’ ban. The ban officially started back in late-September, when the government announced further national measures to address rising covid cases. One such measure was that those who lived together, those in a legally permitted support bubble or those in an ‘established relationship’ did not have to socially distance. Wide-spread hormonal confusion amongst the British public followed the announcement. What, we ask ourselves, is an established relationship? Health Secretary Matt Hancock was directly asked this question by Kay Burley on Sky News. She asked: ‘what does [established relationships] mean to you? I mean I know what it means for you and Mrs Hancock but…’ Hancock responded with a bashful grin ‘that is exactly how I was going to answer. I know I’m in an established relationship.’ As much we are all chuffed to hear that the Health Secretary is maintaining a hearty sex life during the pandemic this sadly can’t be said for a large majority of the British population.
With even tougher restrictions now having been enforced and with London and much of the South East in tier 4, we can firmly say that any sort of intimacy this Christmas period is off the cards for much of the country. And in terms of any sort of festive romance, mixing indoors in tiers 2, 3 or 4 with anyone outside of your household is still forbidden. When being asked by a member of the public in tier 2 whether she and her boyfriend (who are in an ‘established relationship’ but don’t live together) could meet up indoors, Hancock danced around the direct question but repeated the rules of no mixing outside of your household. This confirmation of no sex indoors for couples living apart – without of course actually stating the words ‘no sex indoors’ (heaven forbid such things coming live from Downing Street) only threw fuel on the fire, and many were left sexually frustrated and despondent in its wake.
Now we all love to grasp at straws, and the rules clearly state no mixing indoors but the outdoors remains more of a grey area. So yes, in a typically British way, whatever the weather many folk have taken to the great outdoors for their casual hook ups or love making. Immediately, romantic and steamy scenes from films come rushing to mind, where a couple find a long-abandoned house or are seen rolling around in a field, somehow undisturbed by wasps, midges or dog walkers. Yet, in reality, such an endeavour proves to be much more anxiety-provoking and dangerous. But have no fear – The Sunday Times has got your back. Their substantial guide on how to get ‘frisky al fresco’ includes much helpful advice on how to have hassle-free sex outdoors. Such advice includes recommending some safer sex positions to minimise the chance of catching and spreading the virus. The missionary position is a firm no I’m afraid.
Therefore whether people like it or not, national conversation around sex has increased during the pandemic. Whether the discussion covers the legality of the tryst, how to minimise the chance of infection or just seeing the Health Secretary squirm whilst answering sex-related questions, sex has been, perhaps surprisingly, an ever-present topic during this crisis. This is absolutely a move in the right direction. Sexual silence is so not this year and in fact we should be shouting about sex and intimacy in such an isolating time. Open conversations are what we need as a society, and in turn we can phase out archaic views that sexual desire is something to be embarrassed about or avoided in conversation. Merry Christmas and don’t forget that all good things come to those who wait: we will all be reunited again soon and free to have sex once more!
By Lara Keville
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