So close, so far: love and sex during the pandemic

Antônio [i], a twenty-five-year-old Portuguese friend, tells me with conviction, that never before has he experienced such a healthy and lasting relationship. Every day, for three months now, he talks on the phone with his Spanish lover, exchanges vows of love, and has sex via FaceTime. The romance is recent, after both countries decreed a lockdown, so they never had intimate physical contact. “He is the first person I talk to when I wake up, and the last one before going to sleep”, he sighs, melting with the memory, in an unusual way compared to his former way of life, full of parties, bars and techno nights. With social isolation, the mandatory distance between two bodies makes it irrelevant wether the loved one is in the neighboring city or across the border. In this scenario, Antônio found himself to be a romantic.

The same did not happen for the couple from São Paulo, Olivia and Felipe. The two are in a long lasting  marriage reaching almost ten years. Along with the quarantine came the crisis, nothing serious, nor definitive, but enough for a creative solution: the pre-dated ending. As soon as life returns to normal, each goes his own way, free from confinement and marital bonds, in mutual agreement. After all, with monthly income cut in half, if not completely disappeared, it is not realistic just now to look for a new apartment – not to mention that the process of searching for a new home is quite complicated in the current circumstances. And renting a room on a shared house with flat mates doesn’t seem like a comfortable or safe option either. The above couple are cool about their pragmatic choices, after all they are partners, companions and accomplices, even if separated.

Luciana had been dating her boyfriend for over two years: they each had their own apartment, but in nearby neighborhoods, sharing the same group of friends, going to art exhibitions, drinking beer at bars until dawn, dancing electronic music at parties in abandoned warehouses, trying out new restaurants and spending weekends at the beach. In short, they were never apart. Nothing more natural than joining toothbrushes for some time. But it did not work. “My stay at his house lasted less than a month. We argued over ridiculous things. One day, it was because I closed the refrigerator drawer with my foot. Another day, because I placed the cell phone charger on top of a vinyl record. We had already quarrelled and made up numerous times before, so I don’t know if the quarantine was the trigger, or rather the impediment for the courtship continue for one more time ”, he says. Apart from that, there was a mutual distrust. Not in relation to the common affairs of love, but sanitary, instead. “Once, I had just woken up, still a little sleepy, and I coughed. I was distracted, I didn’t cover my mouth with my elbow. He gave me a sermon that ended up turning into an argument ”.

Talking to a third mutual friend, the good-natured question arose: Does coming home from the supermarket and hugging your girlfriend before washing your hands characterise a toxic relationship?

Let’s dive into the numbers: it is a fact that the number of applications for divorce increased during these pandemic months, wether here or in China. After all, it is quite different to live in normal times, when each spends most of the day at work and there is always a group of friends at the bar to dilute possible tensions. The current scheme looks more like a Big Brother. Care for the home and children, traditionally delegated to women, is also part of this equation. A glaring example of this inequality in the division of tasks was widely publicized on the internet: the submission of academic papers signed by women has plummeted in recent months (37% of submissions in the overall average since 2016; 13% during the pandemic). Everything indicates that the cause of this abrupt change is domestic overload.

The Divorce Consensual platform reported a 30% increase in submissions between March and May 2020 compared to the previous quarter. Google Brazil recorded an impressive 9900% increase in the search for “free online divorce”. According to the Chinese newspaper Global Times, the weeks following the end of confinement produced never seen before numbers of divorce requests. “Due to long lines, employees didn’t even have time to get a glass of water,” says the publication. Still according to the same vehicle, the hopeful news is that, a few months after the end of the confinement, many Chinese couples gave on divorce and made again their marriage vows. #LoveWins

For the sake of truth, however, the fact that the Chinese registry offices were closed during the lockdown, causing the accumulation of requirements, must also be considered. Portugal will not face the same problem: last month a platform dedicated to online divorces was approved, linked lawyers, notaries and the Ministry of Justice.

Regarding relationships during the pandemic, the big question will only be answered in a few months: will there be a baby boom or not? The possible new generation of Coronnialsdepends on a myriad of factors. The boredom of routine can drive stable couples to either increase or decrease their sexual activities. Access to contraceptives may become more restricted, leading to accidental pregnancies. An there will be those who prefer to plan long term – in this case, the uncertain economic scenario on the planet is not conducive to increasing the family. Let’s watch the next episodes and see what happens.

The Divorce Consensual platform reported a 30% increase in applications between March and May compared to the previous quarter. Google Brazil recorded an impressive 9900% increase in the search for “free online divorce”. According to the Chinese newspaper Global Times, the weeks following the end of confinement produced unprecedented numbers of divorce requests. “Due to long lines, employees did not even have time to have a glass of water,” says the publication. Still according to the same vehicle, the hopeful news is that, a few months after the of the end of the confinement, many Chinese couples gave up on their separation and redid their marriage vows. #LoveWins

On a a last note, the fact that the Chinese registry offices were closed during the lockdown also weighs up on the accumulated numbers. Portugal will face have the same issues: last month, the Government created  a platform dedicated to online divorces linked to lawyers, notaries and the Ministry of Justice.

Regarding relationships during the pandemic, the big question will only be answered in a few months: will there be a baby boom or not? The possible new generation of Coronnialsdepends on a myriad of factors. The boredom of routine can drive stable couples to have more or less sex. Access to contraceptives may become difficult, leading to accidental pregnancies. And, of course, there are those who prefer to plan long term – in this case, the uncertain economic scenario on the planet is not conducive to increasing the family. Let’s wait and watch the next episodes.

A few years ago, sending a nude to a flirt or even a fixed guy was considered a bold, if not dangerous, attitude. A leaked image of a woman in naked condition or performing some kind of sexual act could ruin her life. The primitive feminism of those times could not prevent the blame from almost always falling on the victim – the result of centuries of hegemony of patriarchy with its terrible dynamic: Slut-shaming and victim-blaming. Therefore, the research carried out by the End Revenge Porn campaign depicts an unsurprising result: 51% of the survivors of this type of oppression had recurring thoughts of suicide. In Brazil, this type of attitude was only considered a crime after the enactment of a 2012 Law, named after victim Brazilian actress Carolina Dieckmann.

Things started to change after the launch of Snapchat: the social network allowed a photo to be permanently deleted ten seconds after being viewed. Should the recipient have taken a screenshot in the meantime, the sender would be notified. This also happened in 2012, when the promise of free sexting and safe nudes made the app the fourth most downloaded from the iTunes Store. Since then, eight years have passed, and it can be said thaiatt nudes have ceased to be taboo and are becoming a tool for female empowerment.

Which brings us to the present moment, with the increasingly free path to safe virtual sex, an activity that is saving many lives during this fluid exchange prohibition. Nin Magazine, an erotic art vehicle that publishes anonymous nudes on Instagram, has seen a significant increase in demand in recent months. “A semester ago, I had removed the page, since the account had been censored by Instagram. But I felt that quarantine was a good time to get moving again. People sent me messages thanking me for for the comeback,” says Letícia Gicovate, editor of the magazine, editor for online content. The photos can be viewed for twenty-four hours in the stories of the @ninmagazine account under the hashtag #AnoNINmous. “

Before Covid 19, Nin Magazine received about twenty photos a day, with a stable public, mostly habitués – whose photos went straight to the main entrance box. Now there are more than one hundred photos enter the secondary box (in the right corner of the screen, for interactions with unknown users, like a spam deposit). “Of these, I can only see ten a day, but as soon as I free up space, another ten automatically arrive,” she says. According to Letícia, what differentiates recent images from those produced before the pandemic is the artistic touch. “It seems to me that people are working harder.” Free time also makes followers look for a place for dialogue and exchange. “There are a lot of people who want to talk. Sometimes I even exchange messages, but I can’t be a psychologist. There are singles and people who feel needy, even if in a relationship, or that simply need escapism ”, she says.

Apparently, the best solution for everyone is to move digital. Last week, Harvard University published a study that advocates wearing a mask during sex – which reminded me of the words of Vivian Ward, the prostitute enacted by by Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman “I can do anything. I just don’t kiss on the mouth. It’s too personal. ” After all, the really dangerous part of it all is the exchange of fluids from the kiss, not from the genitals. Even so, Harvard proposed masturbation or abstinence as the only 100 percent safe options. In the beginning of the pandemic, Pornhub opened its premium platform for free for 30 days for those living in Italy extending the kind move to the rest of the world after the country ceased to be the main source of contamination.

Killing Kittens, a luxury sex party with events in several countries, migrated to digital orgy mode via Zoom. Previous to that, couples paid an entry fee of £ 250. The virtual version is cheaper, just £ 20. “The rules of etiquette are the same as for face-to-face parties,” says party founder Emma Sayle. For example, there is an agreement that online meetings are not recorded, even if the names on the screen are made up, and many of the attendees wear masks. “I’m an exhibitionist and voyeur myself, so I’m not worried about that,” said a woman who is a longtime Killing Kittens customer to Insider magazine.

In May, Brazil hit the mark of one million vibrators sold since the beginning of the quarantine. Demographics include both married and single people, the former fleeing boredom and routine and the latter for video calls with their online flirtations. In the United States, an erotic toy company is distributing vibrators for free to anyone in North America. The action is a partnership of BBoutique, the online store for Bellesa vibrators, with the German vibrator manufacturer Womanizer. Just register on the site, wait for the order to arrive by mail, and join half the planet on this particular journey of self-knowledge.

Manuela, a friend who ended an eight-year marriage on the eve of the the pandemic’s arrival, tells of her difficulties navigating life as a single woman through the drastic change in her love life. “It’s as if I’m in eternal fertilization phase, looking into different faces, not knowing which one will succeed”. She was first considering  violating social isolation rules in exchange for sexual encounters with her online suitors, but common sense prevailed, and the option was aborted.

However, Manuela was put to the test when she learned of a friend who had engaged in a stable romance. Living alone, without dating for five years, she met a guy on Bumble – a social network like Tinder, with a more “feminist” bias. The first meeting was at home as there were no bars or restaurants open. Three months later, the couple maintains monogamous meetings, varying from house to house (he also lives alone). Thus, it may be possible afer all to have safe sex – an expression that gains a new meaning in times when holding hands is an important step in starting a healthy relationship. “They are Pisceans,” shrugs Manuela, crediting the stars with the success of someone else’s endeavor.

Happn, another dating app, commissioned a survey among its users. Of these, 63% reported that the search for romance was intensified during the pandemic; 31% have had sexting during the period, and among them, 15% have tried it for the first time; 16% went through text messages, 10% exchanged photos and 5% progressed to the video. According to Didier Rappaport, co-founder of the company, “Users are spending more time online and are more likely to get to know their flirt better. This could mean returning to a form of romance in which relationships become more sensitive and deep. ”

Manuela is not part of that statistic. The scenario was favorable to her, countless flirtations waiting in the chat and several new, prudish selfies, but full of likes on Instagram. However, sexting can be intimidating for a virtual virgin. It is common knowledge that a good exchange of nudes almost always involves an alternation between spontaneous and archival nudes, with time spent on craft and a good art direction – things that only the succession of attempts and error can provide.

After some time, I asked Manuela how she was moving along.

She told me she hadn’t yet found the courage to send out any nudes, but, just in case, she had figured out how to create a secret cell phone album for the hotter photos. Just in case.

Credit illustration: (Eddie Guy / For the Los Angeles Times)

[I] All names were changed tor the sake of privacy

 

Translation Luise W Mello Franco

 

 

 

 

 

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