How coronavirus has forever changed sex and dating in America
Chemistry NYC, the invite-only, Brooklyn-based swingers club, won’t be hosting any loft sex parties for the foreseeable future — even though New York City’s Health Department has issued a report on how to engage in “kinky” sex.
The department recommended face masks, being “creative” with positions, and large, ventilated spaces when enjoying multiple partners. It also recommended physical barriers like walls to prevent face-to-face contact.
Though the guidelines sounded like something out of the movie “Eyes Wide Shut,” the local swinging scene isn’t jumping at the invitation.
“We’re waiting it out to see where scientific thought is on safety measures,” says Kenny Blunt, Chemistry’s co-founder and executive producer.
It might involve masks, but he doubts “sex walls” will catch on.
“We may build one for novelty when we return because of the attention it is getting,” Blunt says. “But I don’t see it being a practical solution or something that’ll get widespread use at our events.”
The complications of contact tracing may also pose an issue for swingers.
“Many people wish to keep their attendance at sexy parties a secret,” Blunt says. “So how we’ll deal with possible requests by public health officials for our guest list if someone does indeed come down with COVID soon after attending our event is something that still needs to be figured out.”
Dr. Demetre Daskalakis, the city’s deputy commissioner for disease control, who helped write the updated coronavirus guidelines, has faith that city dwellers will rise to the challenges of a new sexual world.
“If kinky means being creative, New Yorkers are good at that,” he told The Post. “Sexuality evolves.”
It’s not just sex that’s been forced to evolve in 2020. After three months (and counting) of quarantines and self-isolation, with lockdowns just beginning to lift across the country, Americans are having to relearn all the rules of intimacy — from dating to long-term relationships.
Mariko Ichikawa has had several successful Zoom dates but wonders, “What comes next?”Courtesy Mariko Ichikawa
Mariko Ichikawa, a 36-year-old fashion designer from East Harlem, has had several successful Zoom dates since the quarantine began.
“But what comes next?” she asks. “I don’t know when I’m going to feel comfortable in a restaurant again. Are we just supposed to walk in the park together, six feet apart? Is that what dating looks like until they find a vaccine? No one is really telling us how this is supposed to work.”
Helen Fisher, a senior research fellow at The Kinsey Institute, calls it a unique challenge that goes against our basic human instincts.
“We were not built for this,” she says. “The questions we used to ask, like ‘Should I kiss him? Should I kiss her? Should I hold her hand? Should I walk him home? Invite him up to my apartment?’
Right now, “all of that is all gone.”
In a Match.com study conducted by Fisher in April, 69 percent of users are now willing to try video dating, up from 6 percent pre-COVID. And Fisher suspects the change won’t be temporary.
“It’s like we’re going back to the days of Jane Austin,” she said. “Sex is gone. Sex is off the table. Circumstances are forcing us to know somebody before we kiss and hug them.”
For some couples, the COVID-induced courtship slowdown has been a blessing.
Vincent Perrelli, a 77-year-old geriatrician from Providence, RI — three times divorced — has been dating a woman named Charlotte he met in March on luxury matchmaking firm Selective Search. Their dates have all taken place outside — a parking lot picnic in his convertible, and more recently tandem kayaking — but he and his amour have yet to be intimate, which is fine by him.
Vincent Perrelli’s dates have all been outside including a picnic in a parking lot in his convertible.Courtesy of Vincent Perrelli
“It’s better this way,” Perrelli says. “If our entire relationship is just having conversations outside at a safe distance, that’s OK with me.”
Meanwhile, the pandemic is forcing many daters to push past the usual chitchat of first dates.
“Singles are more inclined to discuss how they feel, their hopes and disappointments and dreams,” Fisher said. “It’s what scientists call ‘self-disclosure,’ which can trigger feelings of intimacy and connection and even love.”
Fisher predicts that post-COVID, there will be fewer first dates “but those first dates are going to be much more meaningful.”
But not everybody is happy with sex being “off the table,” of course. Marcus Anwar, a 30-year-old website CEO who has been in quarantine in Toronto, Canada, with his fiancée since March, says their sex life has lost much of its spark.
“We used to have sex about four or five days week, but now it’s maybe once a week,” he says. “And when we do have sex, we avoid kissing and any face-to-face contact.”
Anwar claims nothing has changed about their feelings for each other, but because they both still venture outside once or twice a week — for groceries and other errands — there’s an unspoken fear that one of them might become infected.
“We used to do lots of foreplay which included kissing, touching, and caressing,” Anwar says. “Now it’s more bang boom and it’s over.”
And there are already signs that the lockdown will lead to a wave of breakups. During the first week of New York’s “pause” order, top New York City divorce lawyers reported double the number of inquiries, according to Page Six.
Lee Wilson, a Nashville-based relationship coach, conducted an e-mail survey in late April and found that 31 percent of respondents believe the quarantine has harmed their relationship.
“The lockdowns put a lot of couples in near constant interaction with each other,” Lee says, “bringing to the surface issues that had been managed by time apart or at least more time away from each other than the lockdown allowed.”
Being bi-coastal had its challenges before COVID, but now Jimmy Giliberti and wife Gail meet virtually online.Courtesy of Jimmy Giliberti
Being apart is the issue for Jimmy Giliberti, a general manager at virtual reality company Pagoni VR. Giliberti lives in New York while his wife of forty years, Gail, lives and works in San Francisco, and they’ve become accustomed to arranging bicoastal trips to see each other.
Since Valentine’s Day, stay-at-home orders have kept them apart and they initially had to make do with FaceTime.
But Giliberti missed the casual intimacy of being in the same room with a longtime partner, so he found a solution: Using a 180-degree 3D camera, he took a panoramic picture of his New York apartment and streamed the image on his laptop to Gail 2,500 miles away.
Gail just has to strap on a VR headset and she “finds herself in a virtual room we’ve created with that image of me blended so it looks like I’m in the room with her,” said Giliberti.
“She’s in her kitchen and I’m in mine, but it feels like we’re making a meal together,” he added. “It helps me feel closer to her.”
At the end of the day, fear is no match for the human desire to connect.
Sex and relationships in the time of COVID are forcing New Yorkers to evolve.
“We are mammals and we’re built to touch,” says Fisher. “We’re built to hold and kiss and smell and hear each other. We’re going to get back to that.”
It might not happen in a timeline dictated by the government, or even science.
“It’s my guess that a lot of these people are going to say, ‘To hell with this,’ ” Fisher predicts. “If they aren’t allowed to be together, they’ll do it anyway. They’ll find each other. It’ll be like speakeasies.”
Billy Manas, a writer and truck driver from New York, didn’t see the point in waiting when he met the woman of his dreams, living in Seattle, online in May.
Manas had already scheduled a two-week break to promote his new book, “Kickass Recovery: From Your First Year Clean to the Life of Your Dreams.”
He scrapped the promotional tour and instead flew out to the West Coast to help Amber, a woman he’d never met in person, pack all of her belongings into a U-Haul and drive with him back to Manhattan.
“It was a risk,” said Manas, 50. “But I could scratch my f–king face and be dead in five days. You can’t be alive this year and not take a risk.”
Luckily, it all worked out for Manas and Amber.
“It was an enormous relief to be in the same room and realize, ‘Wow, it really is what we thought it was,’” he said.
Over the last few months, most weddings have been canceled. According to wedding planning site TheKnot.com, 93 percent of future nuptials in the United States have been rescheduled or temporarily postponed.
And yet some people are going ahead and taking the plunge — in the face of massive challenges.
Originally, Amanda Stuart planned to marry in Arkansas. But as a nurse helping with COVID efforts in NYC, she quickly pulled together a plan to be wed in Times Square.Meagan Rachman/Rachman Photography
Amanda Stuart, 42, a registered nurse from Midland, Texas, originally planned to marry in her home state of Arkansas in May.
But, in mid-April, she postponed her wedding and flew to New York City to volunteer on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Every morning until very recently, she took an hour-long bus ride from her room at the Sheraton Times Square to the Coney Island Hospital, where she works twelve-hour shifts treating patients.
When her fellow nurses learned of Stuart’s delayed wedding, they joked that she should get married in Times Square. But then, her fiancé Ronnie Dooley, 37, decided to take them up on the idea.
In early May, Dooley came up to New York and their wedding plans quickly evolved into a community effort. Stuart’s fellow nurses constructed a wedding dress out of personal protective equipment and lingerie out of scrubs. Word traveled fast, and soon everything from the flowers (donated from Ode à la Rose) to the music (DJ Lauren Mayhew) was provided free of charge.
On the evening of May 10, Stuart departed the bus from Coney Island surrounded by the sounds of cheers for health-care workers. At 9 p.m. she met Dooley — dressed in black slacks, a red silk button-up, and a black mask — in a mostly empty Times Square, where they were married by another nurse who’d traveled to New York to volunteer.
“All the worries, the stress and fears I’ve carried for so many years are silenced in your presence,” she told her future husband during their self-written vows.
In the end, love — even in the midst of so much death and sadness — prevailed.
“I think everybody just wanted to rally around something joyful,” Stuart says of her big day. “I think we all needed it.”