Many people have said they don’t plan to have one-night stands post-pandemic (Picture: Getty/Metro.co.uk)
It was obvious that Covid-19 would have an effect on our dating lives.
A deadly virus that meant we had to stay home, couldn’t go to pubs and bars, and had to wear a mask when we nipped to the shops? Not the sexiest thing in the world, and definitely not conducive to our usual sex-having rituals of tipsy dates and kissing on the journey home.
What we weren’t sure of, however, is how severe or long-lasting this effect would be.
According to a new survey conducted by Plenty Of Fish, our pandemic dating habits could stick around for quite a while.
One of the most interesting findings from their research? That over half (51%) of the singles asked think one-night stands are a thing of the past, with men more likely to agree with this idea than women (61% of men vs 45% of women).
Plenty Of Fish reckons that the reason for the potential death of the one-night stand is because people have become used to getting sexually intimate virtually, rather than IRL, and that rather than a traditional one-night stand with someone we’ve just met out and about, we’re more likely to have a sexy video chat, phone call, or texting session instead.
Add to that our renewed nerves around in-person socialising, and fresh fears around hygiene and spreading illness, and it makes sense that one-night stands might not seem so appealing.
But has the one-night stand really been killed off forever? Or will it go through a post-lockdown slump, only to be followed by a roaring twenties style reboot?
Counselling Directory member Beverley Blackman believes that our increasingly online lifestyles may mean we simply have no need for the old-school one-night stand – and that we might view digital connection as a superior replacement.
‘I wonder if digital intimacy may become the new one-night stand or the new no-strings-attached,’ she tells Metro.co.uk.
‘We know that people can project a very different personality when they are behind a keyboard.
‘For some, perhaps the digital interaction gives them as much ‘intimacy’ as they need (and can also guard them from too much emotional hurt), and they can keep the persona that they create online bracketed off, rather than allowing it to become part of their everyday life.’
Think about it this way: what need does a one-night stand fulfil? Has the pandemic introduced you to a better or easier way to tick that desire off?
Beverley invites us to ask: ‘What does sex with this person represent to you? There are so many answers to this question – is sex about validation? Is it about meeting purely physical needs? Is it an expression of affection? Do you hope for something more from it?’
The way we fulfill our needs has changed (Picture: Getty Images)
Many of the emotional reasons for engaging in casual sex likely can be achieved by virtual sex or flirting over Zoom. So why bother with actually getting physical?
Well, says, Neil Wilkie, a relationship expert, psychotherapist, and creator of The Relationship Paradigm, the truth is that we do miss out on something special when everything happens online.
While we might find the idea of one-night stands off-putting now, soon we’ll miss them dearly.
‘Physical connection is hugely important to everyone for social development and personal wellbeing,’ Neil explains. ‘If people rely on digital intimacy, they will miss the messiness and the ups and downs of face-to-face sex. They will move from a much deeper connection to quicker and much more transient orgasms, the destination rather than the journey.
‘I am also very concerned that reliance on digital intimacy will create, under the surface, a very deep iceberg of loneliness.’
Beverley shares that concern, noting that the ‘danger’ of relying on online connection is that someone ‘may struggle in a “real” relationship’. A one-night stand might not be how we pursue a long-term bond, of course, but relegating that connection to a digital one could mean we miss out on something more.
Plus, she explains, the social interactions of a one-night stand are good ‘practice’. Beverley believes that if we replace casual sex with online versions, we’ll become ‘too used to our online personas’ and might struggle to be ‘authentic’.
Rather than replacing one-night stands with different forms of casual intimacy, what single people might end up doing is losing an interest in any type of no-strings attached physical action.
We know that the pandemic – the loss, the life changes, the looming presence of death – has changed what we want when it comes to romance. This alone might mean we no longer have any real desire for a quick fling.
‘The pandemic has made us realise how precious the things that we took for granted are, and hence our behaviour changes,’ notes Beverley. ‘We tend to value our time with people more now as a result.
‘I think this will potentially make people more choosy as to who they spend time with.’
For some people, casual sex won’t be remotely appealing (Picture: Getty Images)
Now that we’re more conscious of the precarity of life itself, casual hookups seem kind of superficial, or a waste of time. Why bother having a one-night stand with someone who could be an awful human being, when, instead, you can feel things out online or with socially distanced dates rather than diving straight in and risking emotional pain?
Dr Chelsea Reynolds, of the Department of Communications at California State University, tells us: ‘We’ve been reminded of how nice it can be to screen and build trust with another person prior to physical engagement – not just for Covid safety reasons.
‘The pandemic has shown us just how much energy we were expending on all those nights out at the pub with a bad Tinder match.’
It’s worth noting, of course, that while one-night stands may not have been ‘allowed’ during the pandemic, not everyone will have stopped having them.
Ergo, not everyone will have experienced radical realisations about what they really want out of love and life – because they’ve just been carrying on as normal.
‘Research shows that folks who have one-night stands tend to be natural risk-takers,’ says Chelsea. ‘So I’m not sure that people who love random hookups actually stopped having random hookups over the last 16 months. They just accepted the risk and moved forward with others who accepted the same risk.’
It might be, then, that some people will ditch one-night stands as a relic of the past, having undergone dramatic transformations, while others will continue on unfazed.
Perhaps that 51% stat is explained as easily as: some people are ‘one-night stand people’ and the other half aren’t. If you already weren’t that into casual sex, the pandemic might have tipped you firmly into believing one-night stands are an outdated relic, whereas fans of a one-night stand won’t be put off by even global illness and lockdown laws.
What we might see, then, is a bit of a divide.
While some singletons may retreat further into their at-home bubbles, others will be, as Neil puts it, ‘sex-starved hordes released onto the pavements, desperate for a one-night stand’.
So we’ll see opposing trends for a while – an eradication of one-night stands on one end, and a massive casual banging boom on the other.
Once the dust settles, though, one-night stands will likely still be around – but they might look a little different to the way they did before.
Just as we’ve been forever changed by the pandemic, one-night stands have had a transformation.
‘I definitely don’t think the one-night stand is over,’ says Chelsea. ‘There are still tons of folks seeking casual sex (just get on Hinge or Grindr!).
‘But we’ve learned a lot about ourselves during lockdown, and many of us have better communication skills now than we started with in early 2020.
‘The one-night stands of summer 2021 may be more chatty than they were in the past. And I wouldn’t be surprised if many of them develop into surprise committed relationships as a result of our newfound aptitude for establishing and maintaining healthy boundaries.’
Neil agrees, adding: ‘The one-night stand still has its place. It’s good for for consenting adults who are fully aware of what they are doing and avoid any collateral damage.
‘One-night stands as regrettable, alcohol fuelled, fumbles are to be avoided. In the post pandemic world, sex will be about connection and making love again.’
How to deal with nerves around getting back into dating and having sex post-pandemic
It’s natural to feel a little edgy about getting back into the dating scene after over a year of lockdown and limited social interaction. Here are some quick tips.
Respect your own boundaries
Chelsea says: ‘If you’re not comfortable with meeting indoors at a busy pub or going dancing, then don’t do it!
‘Many of my single friends are having first, second, and third dates in parks or outdoor restaurants, and they seem to be waiting longer to have sex. Every single person on the planet has been traumatised this year, and we need to be very carefuly as we wade into “the new normal”.
‘Assess and respect your emotional reactions, and if you’re not ready to date or have sex, that’s totally okay.’
Acknowledge the weirdness
‘Humour is a great ice-breaker and it’s fine to joke about having your social skills blunted (it may well come as a relief to your date if you address it!),’ says Beverley.
Slow things down
It’s not a race, and there’s no need to return to your pre-pandemic pace.
‘Don’t be rushed, make sure you check in with yourself as to how you are feeling, and gather your social confidence back at a rate that suits you,’ advises Beverley.
Don’t beat yourself up
Remember that you’re certainly not the only one struggling – everyone will have been affected by lockdown, and you’re not weak for finding the easing-out process a bit tricky.
Prepare for other people to be nervous, too
‘Be very aware that your potential partner may be coming out into the world at a different rate with different emotional baggage to you,’ says Neil. ‘Be sensitive and gently guide them on the journey.
‘If you are feeling rusty, so are many others. Just treat it like your first freefall jump. Take a deep breath and leap into a wonderful unknown.’
Get help if you need it
If your dating nerves are becoming an issue, don’t feel silly for seeking out support.
‘I’d also suggest finding a therapist or relationship coach if you’re feeling super anxious about dating post-vaccine,’ says Chelsea. ‘Mental health concerns have skyrocketed during the pandemic, so it’s important to acknowledge that we’re all in this together, and many if not most daters are experiencing some level of nerves right now.’
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