Sex is back, but it’s going to be different – and hot | Eva Wiseman
Welcome to the summer of love. The Whoring 20s, Shot Girl Summer, the smell of meat and lotion. A bus passed by yesterday, its side painted with an advert encouraging passersby to “vax, wax and relax”. The new sexual revolution is here, and all it took was a deadly pandemic and a year indoors. It’s true, it’s coming, look, there!
Big women swaggering through a pollarded boulevard, feeling themselves like they’ve never feeled before, suited men singing soul songs under their breath, teenagers standing so close they’re talking in each other’s voices. There’s a picnic by the swings where someone has served themself with mayonnaise on a soft baguette. In the supermarket, women stand mesmerised by the erotic hum of a freezer, and someone inhales the cut flowers with a heavy-lidded smile, and a man gruffly counts peaches. A parking attendant kisses his own lips, the tune of an ice-cream van sounds drunk and yearning. When did everyone get a body? When did everyone descend from the live-work space of their minds and knock through to the basement of those hips, that hair?
Yes, sex is back. For a while there it was touch and go whether it would survive the night, having evolved, devolved over the years into a new kind of touchless touch, many young people choosing to pursue relationships online rather than on sofas. But now, having had time to consider our futures, time to swipe our phones with thrice-washed hands and a new professional grade level of attentiveness, having come to new realisations about touch, loneliness, the pandemic-imposed limits of our new lives and the self-imposed limits of our old ones, the world is ready for its return.
For some, this will simply mean more. It will mean stepping out of the house, a prick in each arm and another in the thigh for luck, and slipping straight into a stranger’s dress, a colleague’s bathroom, the idling Volvo of a dad waiting for the end of Year Six streetdance. Good luck to you comrades, congratulations. But for many, the end of our lockdowns will result in a different kind of sex. New kinks have bred in isolation – a genre of Covid porn is thriving on certain laptops, and fantasies are feverish and confused, dystopian, dreamlike. The danger of touch, the forbidden thrill of brushing past an ungloved wrist, masks no longer only for the unvanilla – sex has changed shape. As has dating. Those months on apps, when people were forced to engage in different kinds of communication beyond just meeting in a bar and thinking this’ll do, are (according to a report Cosmopolitan commissioned from the Kinsey Institute) leading to more considered interactions. They predict “the death of the one-night stand”, and a grand move away from destructive dating habits, towards more experimentation, more thoughtful commitments, more pleasure, and fewer people settling for less – a whole resetting of sexual expectation.
Of course, for many of us, it won’t be easy. Not because we’re not sexy and attractive. No, not that at all. We are all insanely attractive right now actually, thank you, incredibly soft and awkward in our beauty. Everyone is gorgeous and no one is OK. So it will be difficult in the way that all attempts at resocialising are difficult, as we step gingerly into the wild, looking backwards with a scared and red-eyed wonder before trotting cautiously towards the trees. How does a “kiss”, what is to “sex”, who is “hand”, a whispered hiss of questions will echo around the clubs at 2am, two people will insist on time-outs during dinner, just to quickly revise the rules about what is meant to happen next.
The trick will be to weaponise this awkwardness, and transform it into a series of exquisite tensions. It is a chance to be naive again, to purr as a person presses your back like a cat on Instagram or a David Attenborough cub. People are excited simply to sit across from a person they admire, simply to pull the window closed or wetly kiss their cheek – each drop of this excitement must be noted, harnessed and claimed as adorable. There will be people who want to lie fully clothed on top of the covers and breathe at each other. There will be people who want to use all the knowledge accrued from twice-daily Zoom meetings to direct erotic films with high production values and a plotline about office politics. There will be people who unload all the therapy they’ve had across the year on to their partner’s bed and roll around on it. There will be someone for everybody, once they’ve worked out how to say hello, I like you.
It’s going to be a good summer. It’s going to be an interesting summer, with moments of pain, and the sometimes bastard thoughts that make us human. It’s going to be hot, but in ways that occasionally burn, a humid bewildering kind of heat. It’s going to be the summer of complicated, radical, ageing, queered, distanced, unlikely love. Welcome, enjoy, and please wash your hands.
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