There's no doubt the pandemic has taken a toll on our lives - mentally, physically & financially.
What about our sex lives & relationships?
Did we spend the lockdown hiding under the covers? Or were we embracing all-day masturbation?
Are we excited to get back out there for a 'hot vax summer', or feeling daunted by a post-pandemic world?
At NORMAL, we surveyed nearly a thousand fellow Aussies, to better understand how lockdown changed us - and how we're feeling about sex as the world opens up again.
The biggest findings of the survey
1. The Dating Doesn't Stop In Lockdown - But It May Not Lead Anywhere
2. Couples In Lockdown: Thriving vs. Surviving
3. Vaccination Really Does Make You More Attractive
4. We All Did a Lot of Self-love In Isolation
5. Casual Sex: Everyone Is Doing It (And Many With Multiple People)
6. A New World of Low Sexual Confidence and Anxiety
7. Keeping It Casual vs. Playing Catch-up: People's Attitudes Towards Relationships Now Fall Into Two Clear Camps
The Dating Doesn't Stop in Lockdown - But It May Not Lead Anywhere
Lockdown most certainly did not put a pause on the dating, but what came out of it?
People got creative with the lockdown rules
When it comes to dating in lockdown, we heard about every strategy in this survey - from online dating apps to phone sex with a partner, dating across states and countries and some very creative meetups; "I found a singles buddy, but just multiple."
We dated - but did it go anywhere?
Lockdown didn't stop the dating - in fact, 46% of singles we surveyed were dating people either online or offline over the recent lockdown, despite restrictions.
"I met people online but nothing eventuated due to the lockdown"
However, almost no one ended up with something serious. Only 20% ended up with a short-term casual partner, and 1% ended up in a serious relationship, which was concerning to some.
"Covid has caused me to feel like I'm 2 years behind."
There's no doubt the pandemic has changed how most people choose to date
Of the 44% of singles who actively dated during lockdown, 18% dated people without any physical contact. This was mostly done via dating apps, but how do people feel about dating apps now?
Very few of us love using apps in lockdown
Our survey showed that people are very tired of using dating apps, yet 30% of singles are still using them for online dating, largely because there's no other way they can meet people. 12% stopped using them completely and only 1% said they loved using dating apps during lockdown.
Having always found them very different to how I would ideally like to interact with people, and therefore never having used them, I found the Lockdown Lonelys making me consider it for the first time in my life
Started using them during lockdown, got tired of it and deleted them.
I've never used but am considering starting!
Couples In Lockdown: Thriving vs. Surviving
Couples fell into two clear camps in our survey; they were either thriving, or trying to survive.
When it comes to frequency of sex, 34% of couples had sex 2-5 times more each week compared to pre-lockdown times, while on the other end of the spectrum, 32% of couples said they had sex 2-5 times less each week.
For the 'surviving' group, being locked down together definitely took its toll, with 37% saying that the lockdown has negatively impacted their intimate and sexual relationship with their partner, and 43% saying sexual desire took a nosedive and they struggled with intimacy.
One couple said, "it’s difficult to find moments of intimacy and excitement due to the monotony of each day" and another said, "this lockdown has strained our relationship, we're living in each other's pockets and have no time alone."
For couples who experienced positive impacts (51%), many were able to use this time together to focus on getting to know each other on a deeper level and become more intimate with their partner(s) by exploring new techniques or desires: "I am more comfortable speaking my interests within things like sex and trying new things."
41% mentioned they will be spending more time on making things more exciting and introducing new things into their intimate relationship, including the use of more toys.
Importantly, the lockdown has helped couples feel more comfortable about openly communicating their sexual needs, desires and boundaries. One respondent said "(Lockdown) helped my relationship! We were really able to iron out what works and what doesn’t work for the both of us and for him to start focusing a bit more on my (female) pleasure."
Vaccination Really Does Make You More Attractive
With the recent public health push for Covid vaccination coverage, vaccination status has emerged as a top factor when it comes to considering dating someone.
Even dating apps including Bumble and Tinder have released a vaccination badge to user profiles which signals whether users have received a Covid vaccination.
Our survey findings show that people are making clear choices when it comes to vaccination status and dating.
84% of respondents said that being fully vaccinated would positively impact their perception of dating someone while 80% said that not being fully vaccinated for non-medical reasons would negatively impact their perception of dating someone:
"people who dismiss the seriousness of this disease for those who are immunocompromised makes me believe they lack empathy for others."
15% said it would not affect their perception either way.
When asked about what Covid-related behaviours or attitudes would lead to a decision of not getting involved with someone, not believing in vaccination was the top reason (86%); "I feel hesitant to spend time or have sex with anyone that’s isn't vaccinated".
This was closely followed by not being fully vaccinated (61%) and breaking Covid-related rules (60%): "Covid isn’t an STD but if I could request a Covid test before we have sex that would be unrealistic but lit".
We All Did a LOT of Self-love In Isolation
Suffice to say people have a lot more time on their hands during lockdown, and many of those hands are keeping themselves occupied with one activity in particular.
Across the board, singles and people in relationships have spent more time overall on masturbation and self pleasure (40% and 34% respectively).
"As a woman who has always had issues with being able to masturbate, I finally started exploring my body gently, and am in the process of starting a self-love journey I have been too afraid to take."
It's news that should surprise no one, masturbation is among the leading lockdown pastimes. Some even tried masturbating for the first time; "I hadn't tried (masturbating) before but have recently become more open to it."
What is surprising is that even people in relationships have spent more time pleasuring themselves (50%).
In addition, 46% of singles and 50% of couples reported incorporating new items into their self pleasure routine, which explains the spike in sex toy sales and searches for homemade sex toys.
Casual Sex: Everyone Is Doing It (And Many With Multiple People)
Lockdown has changed people's views around casual sex and dating, encouraging people to embrace it.
Many singles chose to exploit the ‘intimate partner’ loophole in lockdown; 23% reported that they have had casual sex with one partner, and 15% reported to have had casual sex with multiple partners.
"My attitude towards casual sex has changed and I now view it as being a safe and good thing to do."
For singles, 19% said they were now more open to casual relationships and similarly, many individuals who got out of a relationship during lockdown are also more open to them.
A New World of Low Sexual Confidence and Anxiety
It's not all fireworks: we have a lot of mixed feelings about sex as the world opens up.
Clearly, we've been spending more time with ourselves, but how do people feel now that they can meet new people IRL?
31% of singles who answered our survey said that they feel anxious when it comes to thinking about getting intimate with others, and 28% have experienced a reduction in sexual confidence.
"I'm less confident about my body now as it's changed during lockdown and this affects how I view intimacy at the moment," said one respondent.
While sexual confidence is low, 31% also mentioned that they're afraid they won't know how to socialise and flirt with others like before.
"Lockdown weight makes me assume I won’t be attractive to others."
However, there are those who are very excited to get out back out into the dating scene (21%), and also those who feel ready but want to start slow (32%).
Keeping It Casual vs. Playing Catch-up: People's Attitudes Fall Into Two Clear Camps
The Pandemic Has Shifted People's Views On Intimate Relationships Across The Spectrum
Research shows that a potential health threat can transform the way we think about and approach romantic interactions.
Our survey indicates people fall into two camps; on one hand, 19% of respondents said they are now more open to having casual relationships - "I no longer feel rushed to date and want to take more time for myself before committing to someone," said one respondent.
On the other hand, 21% of respondents said they are now much more cautious of the relationships they enter into and want something more serious and monogamous, as the pandemic has taught them that life is too short to be wasting time.
One respondent said, "I’m more interested in a serious relationship. I’m ready to settle down and feel like I’m now I have to play catch-up."
Similarly, the physical separation caused by lockdowns has encouraged others to be more open to serious online or long distance relationships.
Curious to learn more?
Press & academic researchers are welcome to reach out with specific queries & requests related to the full data set gathered in this survey. Further queries can be directed to NORMAL via firstname.lastname@example.org