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The Daily Tar Heel

Column: A year without sex

20210322_Brown_quarantine sex-1.jpg

DTH Photo Illustration. COVID-19 restrictions have put a dent in many people's sex lives.

2020 was a lot of things, but it was not the year of sex. 

Despite being in a long-term relationship, I spent 2020 living at home — sourcing most of my desire through the New York Times crossword puzzle and an online shopping addiction — while my partner quarantined at home, miles away. 

It got bad, fast. For a time, it seemed like any time I was horny, a new Halston blazer arrived in my closet.

By April, my pent-up sexual energy was enough to power an entire city (or, at the very least, the entirety of Hinton James Residence Hall). By August, I went through a meditation phase, thinking that the lack of sex might bring me closer to some kind of cosmic, spiritual truth (it did not). By December, I was considering dropping out and joining a nunnery, despite being agnostic.

“This is the time you’re supposed to be out having fun,” Violet, my friend and a college student living in New Zealand, told me, content in her maskless island life. “It’ll all be over soon.” 

It was not.

During this time, sex doesn’t seem that high on our priority list. Dealing with the pandemic is enough of a burden, and for many people on the asexuality spectrum, the desire may not be imperative. 

But it’s difficult to divorce college life from sex. The two are practically diegetic, and a lack of physical or emotional connection is an added stressor on top of an already chaotic year. 

My optimistic (and perhaps misguided) modus operandi is that maybe, post-pandemic, we’ll have a return to the 1960s golden era, with Free Love holding rank — or maybe just Hot Girl Summer 2.0. 

But at the locus of sex, at this moment, there’s a decaying field of radiation infecting the way we think about it entirely. Maybe a more realistic view is that the way we approach physical and emotional connection will never be the same again. 

But what really happens when you lose a year of sex?

Daphne, classics major, “The Romantic” 

“I’ve been fine with not having sex for a year. If anything, it’s showed me that sex isn’t the most important thing to me in a relationship. My boyfriend did not feel the same way. Now, I feel like COVID is taking away the time in my life when I could be having casual sex with anybody.” 

Jordan, math major, “The Non-Committer”

“There’s this girl I started talking to on Tinder, and she’s great and all, she’s really funny. But I’m kind of used to us talking over the phone, and I don’t think I want to hook up with her in real life. She keeps on asking to make plans for us to meet up, but I keep lying and telling her I have COVID. To her, I’ve had COVID six times since last April.” 

Elissa, biochemistry major, “The Repenter”

“Play stupid games, win stupid prizes. Thought I could go home with a guy at the end of last semester and be fine. Cuffing season had me down bad. The next day, I woke up with a fever, and then a cough, and then a positive COVID test. I’m not having sex again until after I’m vaccinated.”

Rory, English major, “The Domestic Type”

“If anything, my relationship with my boyfriend has gotten stronger since COVID. We’re in our own little bubble and moved in together at the start of the pandemic. Being together 24/7 has been hard — it was easier when we were living in separate dorms and just spent the weekend at each other's place. But I guess we know now how to live with each other after graduation.”

Nathan, Spanish major, “The Nihilist”

“Honestly? I think I’ve gotten so used to not hooking up with anyone that I don’t care at this point. I don’t think I’d risk it, but maybe I would — no, the more I think about it, I wouldn’t. I know that there are other people on campus still fucking while we’re in a whole-ass pandemic. And we’re gonna still be in a panoramic for another year because people can’t chill. I’ve had to move on.”

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So, was Nathan right? 

Would a cycle of sexlessness, frustration, hooking up and getting infected become altogether interminable? 

I felt out of control (and a new pair of shoes arriving on my doorstep let me know I was falling back into old habits). Reading that New Zealand was back on lockdown, I reached back out to Violet.

“To be real with you,” she told me, “not much changed when life became normal. I wanted it to feel exciting and like it was spring break all the time. I think people are just kind of fatigued.”

Maybe the realistic approach is that everything will be normal, bland and terrifyingly boring. 

No Summer of Love, no vaccine checkmark on Tinder and nothing that scary happening if you decide to meet the person you’ve been talking to over quarantine — as long as you're both vaccinated. 

And maybe, after a year of filling out crossword puzzles and anxiety-ordering vintage sweaters from Depop, normalcy is the perfect salve for all of us.