It's Complicated: Love and Sex in 2021
By Isabelle Lee
Whether you are single, married, dating or just keeping it casual, the new pandemic normal has our relationships a little discombobulated. From socially distanced first dates on a park bench or over FaceTime, to a suitor trying to steal a kiss only to be Heismaned with a loud warning of “6 feet!” meeting people has not been easy. Maybe you’re married, and you now know that your spouse uses phrases like “let’s circle back” or “synergy” unironically at work. From current trends and content to spice up your day to Black-owned sex toy brands to buy and ways to practice self-love, today’s Sunday Magazine rings in Valentine’s Day by diving into the complicated world of modern love.
ready to mingle
Appy V-Day. Many apps are stepping up to the plate for couples looking to reconnect this year. Love Nudge, based on Gary Chapman’s best-selling book, The 5 Love Languages, will help you identify your love language and set goals with your partner to express how much you care. Designed as an alternative to real-life couples therapy, Relish is meant to help identify and solve problems in your relationship. Coral is a sex and intimacy coaching app that will help you and your partner get on the same page and explore new communication methods. Femtech startup Emjoy is all about sexual empowerment well-being, whether you’re single or partnered up. Read about more relationship apps on OZY.
Another Level of Cuffing. Each winter you’ll find plenty of people getting into a relationship for the added body heat, a phenomenon known as “cuffing.” The pandemic version is known as “apocalypsing” — when you treat every relationship as if it’s your last — and nearly one-third of Gen Z users polled by dating app Plenty of Fish admits to doing it. Is it love, or are you just desperate to hold onto the one normal person you met on Hinge while the world collapses around you? Anyone else looking forward to getting a vaccination verification badge on Tinder?
On the Spectrum. There are some 70 million people across the globe on the autism spectrum; for them, social interaction is a challenge, making the dating world extra daunting. At last dating apps such as Hilki and Aspie Singles are emerging that cater specifically to this population, with some offering coaches to help read social cues and others tailored to address problems around sensory processing. Read more on OZY.
Judgment Day. You wouldn’t think it from the broader culture, but 1 in 4 Americans still disapprove of any and all sex outside the bonds of marriage — even if the couple is in a committed relationship. The numbers are fairly consistent across demographics, with the biggest deciding factor, more than age or political views, being how religious you are. But disapproving isn’t the same as abstaining: 85-90 percent of Americans aged 15-49 report having engaged in premarital sex. Read more on OZY.
love and marriage
Boom or Bust. When lockdown first started, many people expected divorce rates to skyrocket. While most people would agree that the pandemic increased stress in their relationship, the proportion of people reporting their marriage is in trouble actually fell from 40 percent in 2019 to 29 percent in 2020. Maybe it’s because, for some, household responsibilities like chores or child care are being more equitably divvied up between partners — though women continue to take on a greater share of house work — or maybe it’s simply a necessity to renew your commitment to your partner if you’re with them 24/7. Apocalypsing for the win.
Pandemic Parenting. After the year from hell, 2021 is all about helping moms heal from 2020’s craziness and finding ways to support them going forward. The blurred lines between child care, working from home and domestic chores are causing a crisis for America’s mothers. On the flip side, the pandemic is strengthening the bonds between father and child. More couples are sharing child care responsibilities than ever, with 70 percent of fathers reporting that they feel closer to their children since the pandemic — even if they might not be doing as much to help as they think.
Stalking 2.0. Domestic abuse is not a new phenomenon, but its direction during the pandemic certainly is. Domestic abusers are exploiting technology like never before, especially location-sharing tech, home cameras and smart doorbells. Some survivors have even reported their abuser using location tracking software to blackmail them for breaking coronavirus regulations. While resources for people suffering intimate partner violence look a little different right now, help is out there, whether it’s a hand signal on Zoom, an app or a hotline.
with a little help from your friends
In Pod We Trust. While many people report that the pandemic has cost them some friendships, those that remain have become healthier. Thank God for pods, those tight-knit circles of people hailed as a balm for pandemic blues. But be careful how you go about defining and regulating your pod — finding pod members who are on the same COVID-safe wavelength as you is paramount. And as seeking out new friends becomes harder at a distance, apps like Bumble Bff are taking the dating game and applying it to buddies.
No Mask, Big Problem. We all know one, a pandemic rule-breaker friend. Maybe you’ve had to block them on social media after one too many Instagram stories flaunting the group gathering they’re attending. Maybe you’ve had to stop seeing them because you know they’re being irresponsible. If you have, you aren’t alone, but there might be more cause for hope than despair. Harvard researchers found only a small decline in the quality of friendships and relationships in the pandemic, a trend they expect to continue.
Oldies but Goodies. One trend we’re seeing more of: going back through your contacts and finding new friends among the old ones. Maybe it’s a fellow camper that you’ve lost touch with but you live in the same city, or a high school classmate you haven’t seen in forever. It’s become easier than ever to make new friends this year from your casual connections pool.
sex for you
Action Item: Masturbation. Lockdown has presented many people with the opportunity to get acquainted with themselves, if you know what I mean. A recent survey by condom company SKYN found that 39 percent of people were masturbating more during the past year, while 49 percent were watching more porn. It’s just another version of everyone’s favorite term of late: self-care.
Listen for a Good Time. Maybe you’ve tried to watch porn, and it just isn’t for you. Don’t despair because there is a new kind of erotica that might tickle your fancy. Companies like Quinn and Dipsea are pioneering the audio porn frontier. With recorded content that ranges from “appreciative boyfriend” to every possible fantasy your brain can cook up, audio porn promises to be a stimulating way to get you in the mood.
Satisfy Me. At this year’s Consumer Electronics Show, the Innovation Award went to sexual wellness company Satisfyer. It won for its new app, Satisfyer Connect, which syncs your sex toy with your partner’s. You can control your partner’s toy, program patterns and even link a sexy playlist. The app also lets you turn ambient sounds into vibration patterns. In a world where lockdowns are keeping partners apart, this app promises to make socially distanced sex a whole lot more fun.
No More Cold Feet. Have you ever felt like the one thing wrong with your sex toy is that it’s not warm to the touch? No? Well, either way, the sex toy geniuses at Lora DiCarlo released a new line of toys that warm to body temperature. The women-owned brand has enjoyed substantial success since launching in 2017 — hitting $7.5 million in sales — and the new heated line of toys will definitely continue to make waves, or rather, vibrations.
black-owned biz to support
Get Organized. We’ve all had it, that moment of panic when someone goes rummaging around in the drawer where you keep your sex toys. That panic inspired Lidia Bonilla to design a discreet box for your personal pleasure collection and launch Plume. The lockable box is a stylish addition to any bedside table — and there’s also a travel case so your toys can go anywhere you do.
Science Is Sexy. The name says it all. EngErotics is about engineered pleasure, using the best in science and engineering to create best-in-class intimacy products. From devices like the ‘Shroom and Progasm to CBD-infused intimate care products, this women-led company is bringing hard science to the pleasure space.
Condoms for a Cause. Entrepreneur Jason Panda is revolutionizing the world of safe sex. After practicing law, the Morehouse College alum started b condoms, the only African American-owned condom company in the country. B Condoms not only leans into fostering conversations about health disparities, but they work to address them as well by hosting events and distributing condoms in communities.
I Want Candy. Temmy Wallace’s sex toy company sits in the sweet spot where pleasure and education meet up. Appalled by the lack of education about sexual pleasure products, she decided to start her own company, iCandi, that provides outstanding customer service and high quality products — bridging the gap between what you might have learned about pleasure in middle school sex-ed and adult needs.
for your reading and listening pleasure
Sex With Eugene. OZY Editor-at-Large Eugene S. Robinson tackles sex and intimacy with unparalleled vigor and humor in his weekly sex column. There, he answers the questions we’re all too afraid to ask out loud. Read the latest on OZY, and stay tuned for our brand-spanking-new Sex With Eugene email.
Sex With Emily. Way back in 2005, when a select few innovators started delivering audio shows to America’s iPods, Doctor of Human Sexuality Emily Morse created her pioneering podcast about all things sex and intimacy. Today, she is still pushing boundaries with one of the most popular podcasts in the country. No subject is off-limits.
My Dad Wrote a Porno. Discovering that your dad wrote an amateur pornographic novel under the pseudonym “Rocky Flintstone” is enough to make anyone want to dig a hole and disappear. Instead, podcaster Jaime Morton and his two friends decided to read it. Each episode of this hysterical podcast takes on a chapter of Rocky’s book, Belinda Blinked. It’s perfect for long car rides or anytime you need some comic relief in these strange times.
- Isabelle Lee, OZY Author Contact Isabelle Lee