Sexual distancing: the pandemic has left Brits divided on how quickly they want to jump into bed
Being on the same page as the person you’re dating is important. There’s nothing worse than having great chemistry with someone until you have that conversation about sexual health, and it goes, well, terribly. From dating intentions to contraception, being upfront about these things matters to singles, and it matters to us at Inner Circle.
Lockdown brought a stop to dating as we’d previously known it. IRL dinners, theatre trips and late night cocktail bars were replaced with rainy daytime walks and awkward Zoom meets. For the best part of the last couple of years, singles have had to forge connections in new ways or put dating on hold entirely.
The Modern Attitudes Towards Sex and Dating report explores how the pandemic has impacted the way people talk to each other about sexual health, contraception and dating intentions, and the importance of lockdown in shaping attitudes.
The report reveals that as we emerge from the pandemic, a quarter (25%) would sleep with someone quicker than normal and a quarter (23%) say it’ll take them longer. However, as Brits awaken their dating lives from pandemic hibernation and move into cuffing season, nearly half (45%) are doing so with a more open outlook around sexual health and dating.
Whilst there’s a greater openness, it’s clear that singles are divided on how the pandemic has affected their sex lives. That’s why we’ve partnered with dating experts, Inner Circle, to get people talking about sex and dating. We want to find out where daters are in their conversation about sexual health, how they’ve changed since the beginning of the pandemic, and help them have the conversations that matter and ultimately date better.
STIs - do ask, do tell
Over the last year or so, health has been in the spotlight and it’s become the norm to talk about it. Asking someone if they’ve taken a Covid-19 test or received the vaccine has been standard chat, along with discussing symptoms and feeling unwell. The report reveals that months of ‘are you vaccinated?’ appears to have left daters more open about their health status.
Along with lacklustre dates and stale opening lines, singles are leaving awkwardness around STIs in 2019. Whilst the vast majority (87%) are still understandably concerned about STIs, nearly half (45%) admit they’re more open to having conversations about sexual health than they were before the pandemic.
Promisingly, seven in 10 (71%) also feel there should be less stigma around STIs, and would want their date to be more upfront early on about their sexual health. And it works both ways. Nearly 3 in 4 (73%) now feel comfortable discussing sexual health with their new partner, suggesting there’s a greater awareness of the risks surrounding our social behaviours and people are happy to address it.
We’re still not great at having that chat
Despite many people feeling comfortable discussing STIs, there are still things people find challenging to talk about - condoms being one. Over a third (36.5%) say talking about finding a condom before sex is awkward and over half (53.6%) admit having not used one in the past because they didn’t want to bring it up before sex.
Surprisingly, only two thirds (66%) say they always practice safe sex. They might not be easy to chat about, but condoms are still singles’ favourite way of keeping things safe - 73% use them, and 8% double up with another form of contraception as well.
So talking about condoms can still be awkward, but how many have had that chat yet? Whether it’s the pill, the coil or the implant, half of daters (48%) prefer to wait until they’re in a relationship to discuss other forms of contraception.
Daters are more open about their intentions
Flings, fun, commitment, excitement; months spent indoors has given people plenty of time to reflect on what they want. Singles are now more confident expressing their intentions on dating apps. Half (49%) even describe themselves as an open book and say they would happily lay out their dating intentions on their profile.
When it comes to what people are looking for, over a third (38%) say they’re on the hunt for ‘the one’. And 4 in 5 (79%) are doing so monogamously. But that doesn’t mean there’s not some fun to be had along the way. One in five (18%) are just looking for good sex - and who can blame them after months of lockdown? A third (30%) would be open to any sort of connection, from a fling, something serious, or anything in between.
So singles are pretty upfront about what they’re looking for - but do they trust other people to do the same? Encouragingly, honest intentions are still important for most people, with 52% saying they’ve seen a shift in others being more open and honest with their dating intentions.
Dr Sarah Welsh, our Co-Founder, said: “The data in our report is really positive for conversations about sexual health. As we settle into cuffing season, it’s important that people are open about these conversations, their intentions and how to keep safe. People might find condom conversations awkward, but our data shows that they are still going ahead and using them. There’s work to be done around making people more comfortable, but right now, it’s very encouraging to hear.
“It’s been a tough couple of years for daters, so we’re really excited to partner with Inner Circle to help get connections off screen and back into the real world. We believe that information is vital to positive sexual experiences. Together, we’ll play our part in supporting people to get back to dating this Winter - and above all, do it safely.”
Dr Sarah also shares her top tips for safely taking a date to the next level:
- Communication is everything. Post-COVID, it’s more acceptable to discuss health needs, requirements or personal preferences, so whether it’s vaccination status or favourite position, it’s great to be upfront, even if you feel a little awkward. Your health, and that of your partners, is number one.
- Conversation might not be the only thing that’s a little out of practice… Try using lubricant to keep things moving and enhance the experience. Top tip: make sure the formula is water-based, like HANX Lubricant, as oil-based lube can actually break down a condom’s latex. Not something you want to risk!
- Remember to take it at your own pace. Just because you’re on a date, the vibe is right, and you’ve maybe had a kiss, that doesn’t mean you have to take it to the next level that night. Or the next. Or the one after that. It’s your choice. Play it safe and have fun.
Charly Lester, dating expert, said: “For lots of people, the events of the last couple of years have resulted in a sexual hiatus. While we’ve been out of the sexual arena for a while, many are ready to jump back in. Whether that’s a casual encounter or something longer term, as things begin to cool down this winter, the dating scene will be hotting up. This is why it’s important we have these conversations now. Even though 74% of people are comfortable discussing sexual health with a partner, 53% admit to not using a condom because the conversation around it felt awkward. We’re good at some conversations, but not at others. There’s space for us to up our game, so, simply - let's chat about it.”
Charly Lester shares her tips for opening up to a date:
- Honesty is the best policy. You can’t spark a meaningful connection if you’re holding something back, and it’s unfair to expect your date to be authentic if you’re not doing the same. Whether it’s dating intentions or sexual health, put your best foot forward and talk openly about what you’re looking for.
- Know what you want. Contraception is a personal decision that each of us makes. But before going into these conversations, it’s worth having a chat with yourself about what would make you feel most comfortable. Are you looking to prevent pregnancy? STIs? Both? Whatever it is, it’s best to think it through beforehand and decide what works best for you.
- Navigating conversations around contraception can be tough, but as a rule, you should approach them early on. Don’t wait until things are getting steamy to find out you aren’t on the same page. Give yourself time to approach the topic when you’re both relaxed.
About the research methodology
Research was carried out by ourselves and Inner Circle, who surveyed 1,076 adult respondents in the UK in July, and a further 1005 in September and October.