From Bumble’s Dating 101 in 2021 guide.
Editor’s note: this post was published on December 29, 2020. We urge readers to abide by guidelines issued in their local areas since then.
The decision to hook up with someone new is always complex. Even when we feel an undeniable spark with a new match, most of us run through a list of considerations before getting physical—from the emotional (“Is this right for me right now?”) to the logistical (“Do I really want to do this in a car?”). But COVID has added a new set of questions to that list, and made hooking up infinitely more complicated.
Months into the pandemic, many of us are both sexually frustrated and aware of the safety risks spending time with people outside of our bubble creates. That means there are tons of new questions to ask ourselves before hooking up with someone new—like “Is this worth the potential risk to my health?” or “Is it worth it to me to quarantine for two weeks so we can hook up safely?” It can make the entire situation feel confusing and overwhelming, which can then lead us to simply throw caution to the wind in the moment.
But there are ways to figure out your boundaries and comfort level with risk, and to make a thoughtful decision about whether you want to hook up during the pandemic. According to Dr. Laurie Mintz, psychologist and author of Becoming Cliterate, the first question to ask yourself is, “‘Do I even want to do this?’ The second is, ‘If I do it, how do I do it safely?’” Think about the factors in your situation, including your exposure risk, the other person’s exposure risk, and the precautions that each of you are able and willing to take. Be open and honest with yourself (and when the time comes, with your partner) about your values, your comfort level, and what you need to feel safe.
Then, work from there. Be confident that whatever choice you’ve come to is right for you, and know that no one has the right to pressure you to go beyond the boundaries you’ve set. If you’ve decided that virtual intimacy is your limit right now, explore the wide variety of options available to make it fun and satisfying. And if you’ve decided that you and a match have gotten to know each other well enough to consider an IRL hook-up, make sure to make your hook up as safe as possible by knowing each other’s risk factors and even potentially quarantining in advance.
And what if you make a decision to hook up and later regret it? Mintz says it’s key to remember that when it comes to making sexual decisions, “sometimes you’re going to like your decision, and sometimes you’re going to regret it. And if the latter, be gentle with yourself, because nobody bats a hundred percent when making decisions.” If you come to regret getting intimate IRL, make sure to get tested, quarantine, and try to look at it the way you’ve looked at other sexual decisions in your life: as an experience to learn from.
All that planning and choosing might sound overwhelming. But, as certified intimacy educator Shan Boodram points out, we’ve been making these kinds of “is it worth it?” decisions for the past few months: “When you’re invited to a party, have to go to the grocery store, or do anything, you’ve had to think about, am I adequately prepared? Am I okay with the risk factor? Is this going to be worth it for me?”
2020 has taught us a lot about our values, boundaries, and comfort levels, and that’s a good thing. We can use that information to make the sexual decisions that serve us best, even after the pandemic.