During lockdown, like many people, I watched a lot of unhealthy tele. One late-night programme, for example, purported to be an investigation into people’s sexual behaviour during the crisis.
It was actually an excuse for titillating tales of sexual kinkiness, enjoying what new quirks people had indulged in. It was a completely inaccurate portrayal of sex during Covid.
In fact, most reputable reports found that people had less sex during the pandemic than usual. This was for several reasons.
Firstly, people were shut-in, not allowed to meet others, even for intimate encounters, even if they were partners, if they didn’t live together.
Secondly, the pandemic caused much stress, anxiety and worry; which all prevented love-making.
Thirdly, for those with children, the constant pressure of their constant presence, although much-loved, also reduced opportunities for sexual free-for-all.
As with so much, the pandemic, however, has merely accentuated, or accelerated, what was already a trend among young adults.
Millennials, for example, are much less sexually active than their parents’ generation. They are also finding it more difficult to form long-term relationships, and ‘settle down’.
This is also for several reasons. Firstly, it is taking longer to get established in careers; and women particularly are more free now to delay child-bearing, and form an active part of the labour-force.
Secondly, housing costs mean that adult children live longer with their parents; a situation known for discouraging ‘nooky’, and one which again delays setting up new households.
Thirdly,the the economic precarity affecting this generation, likely to exacerbated by the pandemic, makes risk-seeking behaviours in general (like drinking, drug-taking) less attractive.
Fourthly, even for those in flat shares, transience in the job-market makes long-term relationships harder, as people follow jobs to new cities, exchanging thrills of the new for comforts of the familiar.
Fifthly, the availability of single-person sex, via the internet, means that, at a rather basic level, sexual needs can be met without messy and fraught relationships.
In future, these factors will cause more single-person households; echoed by broken relationships or divorce among older people, which causes increased isolation and loneliness, revealed in lockdown. These same marriage and relationship breakdowns among older generations, also make it more difficult for young people to commit to long-term relationships.
What they have not seen modelled, they find it harder to realise in their own lives, and even to think it possible or desirable.
In a report in The Guardian, however, sex therapists argued, contrary to what one might think the viewpoint of that newspaper, that sex is better in marriages and long-term relationships.
In the temporary liaisons of hook-up culture, for example, sex is usually limited to someone’s one or two ‘good moves’.
This is because experimentation, and relaxed enjoyment, depend on trust; and trust can only be built up over time.
Paradoxically, good sex is only possible in exactly the kind of relationships which young adults are finding it harder to find, or construct.
Are we facing a future of bad marriages, bad relationships, and bad sex?