It’s time we have the talk.
In the thick of the COVID-19 pandemic, it makes sense that people may be missing the good old days of physical human connection. Some may even be considering venturing back out into the already messy and confusing hookup scene.
According to epidemiologist Julia Marcus’ Atlantic article, an abstinence-only based approach to social distancing is not helpful. The shame associated with the approach can even be counterproductive and lead to secrecy.
The same goes for sex and dating during the pandemic. Although being your own partner during the pandemic is the safest option, it’s not going to work for everyone.
“We need to be careful when it comes to heaping even more stigma on sex because there’s already so much shame as it is,” Kinsey Institute research fellow Justin Lehmiller told Vox.
According to one of Lehmiller’s studies, there has been an increase in communication about sexual desires, the possible risks that go along with having sex in a pandemic, and how to reduce them.
There is more and more information coming out about how to have safer sex in the times of COVID-19, including this fact sheet from New York City public health officials, but tips about tips on communicating boundaries, expectations, risks with a potential hookup seem to be lacking.
The absence of advice about having these conversations is something that Simmons senior Hannah Madden has noticed.
Madden has been cautiously venturing back out into the dating scene and noted the importance of having open and honest conversations. She pointed out how difficult it can feel to start having them, and the lack of information about how to go about it.
“It feels awkward at first, but I think that the other person is probably also trying to figure out how to best navigate it,” said Madden.
With the input of Amanda Denes, a Communications professor at UConn whose research focuses on communication in interpersonal relationships, The Voice has compiled a list of five tips for the pre-hookup conversations you should consider having for the sake of public health.
1. Determine your non-negotiables
You are doing your hookup for you. Be firm with yourself regarding your needs and wants in order to have a safe and pleasurable experience.
Communicating non-negotiables is a principle that Denes said comes up repeatedly in her work around communicating sexual wants and needs, but can apply to conversations about having safer sex. For example, thinking about what you need to know about your partner in order to enjoy the interaction.
“If it’s that you want to feel comfortable that your partner has been tested, or has only seen a certain number of people, then those are things that (require) some self-reflection, said Denes.
After you become firm in “the things that are central” to you having a good sexual experience, Denes said the less scary it becomes to talk about them.
2. Get right into it
It can feel uncomfortable to be straightforward and dive right into the hard stuff, but it saves everyone time and energy in the long run.
So maybe in “normal” circumstances, you wouldn’t be asking someone what their living situation is, or if they have any health concerns that could put them at a higher risk all within the first five minutes of matching. But, as we’ve heard a million times, these are unprecedented times.
The more uncertainties there are about a sexual situation, the more threatening it can feel to talk about, said Denes. With less conversation, the more reliant people are on indirect cues like tone of voice and body language.
Without being in person to pick up on those cues, you might as well get right into it. That is what 24-year-old Elena Freedman has been doing.
Freedman is immunocompromised, which puts them at higher risk for contracting COVID-19. Because of this, they are quick to disclose their boundaries and expectations.
“How people react to me saying I’m immunocompromised is make or break for whether or not we keep talking,” said Freedman.
If anyone gives you a hard time for talking about what makes you feel comfortable. Swipe. Left.
3. Take advantage of the dating apps and technologies you are using
Use that barrier to clearly communicate your non-negotiables without the awkward pressure of being in person.
Although you may miss out on body language cues from talking online, the stress of having a face-to-face conversation is eliminated. According to Denes, integrating your needs into an online conversation could be easier if you are feeling uneasy about having the conversation.
4. Evaluate the risks
Yours, theirs, and the folks you each interact with.
As this Cosmopolitan article points out, if you are going to hook up with someone, there are a few questions to ask to understand the risks. For instance, how many people are they in contact with per day? Are they at higher risk of exposure? Are they immunocompromised?
5. Be explicit in communicating that getting a COVID-19 test is not a guarantee for anything physical to take place.
If you only take one thing away from this read, have it be this. Getting tested may be consenting to see where things go, said Denes, but it is in no way consenting to get physical. Consent is ongoing.
Denes told the Voice that getting tested for COVID-19 is not much different than the other things that people do to prepare for situations that have the potential to get sexual, “it just seems more extreme because you have to get a medical professional involved.”
Communication is key, and as Denes pointed out, being confident in what it is that you need in order to feel good about a hookup situation is what will lead to the most fulfilling encounter.
Now the talk wasn’t too bad, was it?