Here's how to keep COVID-19 from ruining your sex life if you're single
Pro tip: Buy more sex toys
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The novel coronavirus (COVID-19) has changed everything, including the way we work, the way we interact with our community, and even the way we get to spend time with our loved ones. It’s no surprise that it’s also changed the way that we have sex.
While many couples have felt the mixed effects of being quarantined together 24/7, those of us who were single before this pandemic spread have felt the pinch in a whole different way. After all, maintaining an active sex life is hard to do if you're also following the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) recommendations for social distancing.
Hard but not impossible, says Jessica Zager, sex counselor and pelvic health physical therapist at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston, Mass. “You hear a lot right now about people being like, ‘I’m going to learn French and read 80 books during quarantine.’ And that’s great, but you know, you could also learn how to give yourself a really mind-blowing orgasm, too, and that could be just as life-changing.”
This is especially true for anyone who’s feeling overwhelmed by the emotional side of quarantine—by the sense of fear and loss of bodily agency that it's created. Sexual expression through masturbation and other forms of non-penetrative play can not only give you a feeling of pleasure during this stressful time, but it could be a way to reclaim a sense of control over your own body in a way that you really can’t otherwise.
“This makes people who maybe didn’t [before quarantine], go into a zone now of saying, ‘What does eroticism look like when I’m here in a room by myself? What do I learn that I want to take forward into connections that I have once I’m let out of this room?,’” says Carol Queen, author, founder of the Center for Sex and Culture and sexologist for Good Vibrations.
How can singles ease the emotional toll of COVID-19 on their sex lives and still enjoy themselves? Here are nine tips to keep in mind, according to these experts.
1. Think outside the box
When it comes to sex and quarantine, one of the toughest hurdles that many people—especially single people—face is the mindset that pleasure only counts if it happens with someone else. For hetero-normative couples, this often means through penetration, or penis-in-vagina (PIV) sex. “A lot of problems are rooted in the idea that in order for an orgasm to count—in order for the sexual experience to count—it has to be done by a partner: by a spouse, by a boyfriend, by a girlfriend, and so forth,” says Zager.
According to Zager, the idea that PIV is the “holy grail” of sexual experiences is a major problem, and one that could be holding people back from experiencing other important forms of intimacy right now.
In particular, cyber sex, phone sex, and video sex over Zoom are becoming increasingly popular as they offer a way for people to feel aroused without having to be physically close to a partner. This kind of imaginative play might have seemed off-limits before or not as satisfying as PIV, but Zager thinks being open to exploring non-penetrative play is more vital now than ever. “I consider all of it to be sex,” she says.
2. Masturbate (and don’t be afraid to try new sex toys)
Your safest sex partner during the age of COVID-19? Yourself. That’s according to the New York City Health Department, which recently issued a memo citing masturbation as the safest form of sex that residents can be having right now.
And it’s not just NYC that’s championing masturbation: As public health officials encourage people all over the world to embrace social distancing measures and stay at least six feet away from one another, the idea that you can—and should be—taking your pleasure into your own hands feels like one of the smartest moves you can make.
According to Queen, masturbation is its own form of self-care. Not only is it great for people who want to have safer sex, but it can also be a wonderful opportunity for individuals to learn what works for their bodies and what doesn’t. “Maybe people didn’t fully embrace solo play as self-care before, but they can now,” Queen says.
Never masturbated and unsure where or how to start? You don’t need to attend one of Betty Dodson’s famous workshops to learn how to pleasure yourself. All it takes is a little time—which we all have plenty of at the moment—and dedication to figuring out what feels good for your body. “Once you feel like you have permission [to explore your body], go see what happens,” says Queen. “That’s how people learn the most about their individual sexuality.”
Sex toys can be a tremendous help too. For solo play, Queen recommends toys like the always-popular Magic Wand Rechargeable wand vibrator, as well as the Ripple Silicone Rechargeable Vibrator or the Womanizer Premium Clitoral Stimulator.
If you’re not shopping for a vibrator but still want a toy that’ll enhance sensations, the Njoy Pure Plug 2.0 and the Electrosex Jack Socket Electro Stroker could be great for humans with penises and prostates.
3. Practice other forms of self-care
Masturbation isn’t the only form of self-care—there are other ways that you can excite your own senses and feel good about your body that are not considered strictly sexual.
For starters, Zager recommends taking a bath. Run the water so it’s nice and warm, slip in, and give yourself a light touch—maybe that means lightly stroking your skin or playing with your hair. This can stimulate the release of oxytocin, the cuddle hormone. Especially for single people who aren’t getting much snuggle time at the moment, finding natural ways to release the cuddle hormone can be a terrific way to still feel the warm-and-fuzzies, even when you’re quarantining solo.
You can discover a lot about yourself in the process. For humans with vulvas, Zager recommends using a mirror and just seeing how things look. This can be extremely resonant for those who have never examined themselves before with a mirror. “Any time you feel a disconnect from a part of your body, you’re not going to feel a sense of agency over it or control and the ability to have an orgasm becomes a mystery,” says Zager.
Although you’re stuck inside because of quarantine, there are ways you can still feel sexy, too, like treating yourself to some new lingerie. It doesn’t matter if you’re single and you’ve technically got no one to “show it off to”—wearing an ultra-flowy babydoll or a curve-hugging bodysuit can help you feel hot and be a total pick-me-up for your self-esteem.
Most of all during moments like this, Zager thinks it’s important to look beyond orgasm as the be-all, end-all of pleasure. She encourages her clients to focus on loving on their own bodies, thinking about what they like, touching themselves where it feels interesting to do so, and just acting with the intention of feeling good—it doesn’t have to result in an orgasm to be a worthwhile experience.
Above all else, don’t feel like you’re wasting your time. “Don’t feel guilty spending time just trying to figure out what feels good,” says Zager. “This matters.”
4. Know your limits and how to communicate them
Have more time on your hands than you know what to do with? You can put it to good use by thinking about what you really want out of a sexual relationship—casual, committed, or otherwise—and how you’re going to pursue that once the quarantine lifts. “The very idea that you could express a preference and that you’re willing to say it out loud carries with it a certain amount of power, I think, because so many people don’t do that,” says Queen.
For some single people—especially those within the kink community—talking about personal likes and dislikes in the bedroom and negotiating sex in a way that feels consent-driven may seem easy. But many, Queen points out, aren't comfortable determining and communicating their personal sexual preferences. “Nobody really gets real encouragement to think about their sex lives that way, unless they step across the line into the kink community where it’s a very well represented and taught and understood,” she said.
One benefit to all this solo time is that it can give people space to reflect so that sex is more pleasurable and consent-driven in the future. That may take the form of a literal negotiation, as it can in the kink community, or it might just be figuring out how to talk more. Either way, it’s a good thing. “Whether you negotiate or not, there’s always a dance going on with sex,” says Queen. But knowing firmly where your limits are and what you really want out of an intimate relationship can only help you in the end.
5. Plan a virtual date
COVID-19 doesn’t mean you have to stop dating—it just means you have to change your approach. Luckily, Zoom is one of the major video platforms out there that’s making it easy to bridge the separation gap and help people stay connected during this difficult time. Dating apps like Bumble and Match.com have also added video functionality and seen an uptick in users. Another popular app, Hinge, has introduced “Date from Home,” which isn’t an in-app video feature, but allows you to show you’re open to a virtual meeting. From there, you can segue to Zoom or Facetime, although the latter requires you to disclose personal information, so you may want to avoid that as you’re initially getting to know someone.
For dating, all this is a win-win. You can still chat with people and have all those firsts you normally would: the getting-to-know-you conversations, the awkward silences, and perhaps even an extra beer or two you didn’t quite intend to have but can’t resist, because you’re having so much fun. The difference? Thanks to virtual dating, you’re not potentially exposing yourself or others to the virus. But if you’re thinking about taking your virtual date to the next level—to virtual sex, or mutual masturbation and other forms of play over video—you may want to hit pause on those plans. Multiple experts warn that Zoom has a record functionality, meaning someone could take footage of your intimate experience together.
It's a frightening prospect and a risk that you shouldn't take lightly. However, there are ways to protect yourself: If you enable Zoom's recording disclaimer, you'll be notified if and when a recording starts and prompted to give your consent. This also means that if you join a meeting that's already being recorded, you'll be notified immediately and asked whether or not you consent. In addition, Queen recommends stating clearly over the video that you do not consent to be recorded (just to be on the safe side). By sticking to video sex with trusted partners or just skipping it completely, you can also better protect yourself from revenge porn and other risks.
Another way to get close that’s equally hot but potentially less invasive is having phone sex. According to Jaimee Bell, a sex writer at Sofia Gray, you should never underestimate the power of talking on the phone. Just hearing another person’s voice can help you overcome all the feelings of loneliness and anxiety that self-isolation has created. “While sexting is fine and easy, there is something about listening to your partner climax on the other end of the phone that is also just really erotic.”
But unlike with video sex or even erotic photography, there’s more anonymity when you’re just talking dirty over the phone, and less of a chance that what you say during the deed will resurface in the form of revenge porn in the future.
6. Write erotica
Writing love letters can be a passionate expression of your innermost feelings toward someone. Take it one step further and you’ve got the makings of a very sultry erotica. “Reading, fantasy, and pleasure are all mental escapes,” says Gabi Levi, who runs Shag Story, a popular erotica site. “Immersing yourself in a sexual or romantic fantasy is also a great way to learn more about your own sexuality.”
But you don’t have to be in a relationship to pen a steamy page-turner. You can turn up the heat just for yourself and write out your deepest urges, envisioning them as if they were really happening, and you never have to show a soul. In fact, it can be something you draw from later if you’re trying to masturbate or set a mood.
Self-conscious about writing erotica because you’ve never done it before? Levi says that first and foremost, no fantasy is wrong, and expressing it through erotica can be a creative, cathartic outlet for any pent-up feelings or stresses you may be having right now. The trick? Write as if no one’s ever going to see it, and don’t put too much pressure on yourself. “Most erotic stories start with a sensual but not overly sexual encounter,” says Levi. “You don't have to dive right into the good stuff—you can take your time getting there.”
7. Practice “safe cyber sex”
Most of us are used to thinking about sex in terms of safety—we think about condoms as a way of helping reduce the risk of sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and may use other forms of birth control to help prevent unwanted pregnancies. But thanks to COVID-19, there’s a new kind of safe sex we should all be thinking about: how to have safe cyber sex.
As more people enter into the digital dating world through methods like video sex and erotic photo exchange, experts say that it's important to consider online personal safety. “I’m all for advocating for safe cyber sex,” says Zager. According to her, using two-factor authentication with everything from Instagram to Google is a must. She also recommends using a password manager like LastPass or 1password, so your sign-in information can’t be easily guessed.
Sharing photos online is a big risk, too, and in ways you might not be thinking about. Zager notes that most people generally feel safer taking sexy photos if they’re not showing their faces, but there are plenty of ways a person can still be identified, such as tattoos or a distinctive piece of artwork they may have hanging in a room.
If you haven’t turned off location tracking on your phone, you’re in for another big (bad?) surprise. When location tracking hasn’t been disabled, your photo’s metadata reveals information about your whereabouts and the time your image was taken, which can be pretty scary if you’re aiming for anonymity online.
Fortunately, there are some things you can do to make image exchange feel more secure. Some products are actually designed to cover tattoos and other distinguishing features completely. Bell also recommends using apps like Confide, a confidential, secure app that works similarly to Snapchat, but according to her, is a lot better.
With Confide, messages are encrypted and self-destruct. The app also comes with a built-in screenshot-preventing mechanism so that only your intended recipient ever gets a peek at what you’re sending. “If a screenshot is attempted by the person you send the photo to, it ejects them from the app and the screenshot they attempted to take is grayed out, making it unrecognizable,” says Bell.
8. Be very careful about quarantine buddies
Loneliness starting to get the better of you, especially as these weeks of quarantine just seem to drag on and on? You’re not alone. Apps like OKCupid, Hinge, and Tinder are reporting massive surges in traffic, and while most experts agree that COVID-19 has basically killed hookup culture, there are plenty of individuals out there who are game for, well, whatever.
Quarantine buddies—i.e., friends you’ve decided to come out of self-imposed isolation to hang out with—may help you get through this experience on a social level, but you might want to think twice before you invite one of them into your bedroom, especially if that person is someone you don’t really know that well. Meeting up in person with anyone who lives in another household just to have sex poses major risks and most experts agree it should be avoided.
If you do have a quarantine buddy though, Zager says it’s critical to keep the CDC’s recommendations in mind, which means you should aim to limit the number of buddies you have, and see your buddy as infrequently as possible—preferably no more than every two weeks.
If you’re having sex, you should keep a mask on and avoid kissing or other forms of play where saliva may be swapped, as this can transmit the virus. So much about COVID-19 is unknown, Zager points out, so above all else, just be very careful—and be sure to wash your hands (or even your whole body) and any sex toy you use before and after sexual activity.
9. Avoid your ex
This one’s simple—just don’t go there. Queen points out that it seems to be popping up all over the place: stories of people whose exes are crawling out of the woodwork, looking to rekindle things or maybe just hop on a Zoom chat and get down.
It can be tempting, especially if you’re single and feeling lonely. But the urge to backslide into familiar territory is a slippery slope and one that could leave you worse off in the end than you bargained for. In most cases, you’re likely better off just keeping the past in the past. After all, they became your ex for a reason.