As coronavirus lockdowns start to ease, many U.S. states are beginning to open up, but ‘IRL’ meetups are still risky and anxiety-inducing. Since the onset of the pandemic, we at Bumble have seen a surge in virtual dating — that is, the use of the Video Chat and Voice Call features within our app that allow you to get to know your matches from home, while also protecting your personal information.
We released some new features to help you get creative as you connect, like a Virtual Date Badge to show you’re down for digital-only meetups and an expanded Distance Filter so you can match with people from all over your country.
Experts in public health and immunology have suggested coronavirus may in fact change the way we date, at least for the near future, making virtual dating an appealing prospect. There’s no right or wrong way to get intimate over the phone, via text, or even on video, but there are ways to establish boundaries and get comfortable, especially if this is all new to you.
Bumble spoke with sex and relationship experts for advice on virtual intimacy, whether you’re a beginner or a long-term long-distance dater.
Shift your mindset.
“The first thing is to stop thinking about video dates as secondary to being in person,” said Gigi Engle, a certified sex coach and award-winning writer.
“This is the new normal. We’re all going to have to adapt. This is no longer a ‘get to know you before we meet in person’ thing.”
Ask yourself some basic questions.
“Check in with yourself,” said Dr. Nazanin Moali, a clinical psychologist who specializes in sex therapy, among other services. “Why are you doing this? Is this something you want to do to take care of your needs? Do you have a level of agency? Or are you feeling pressured?”
It may help to sit down and actually list the reasons you’d like to get intimate via messaging, phone, or video. “I would encourage people to identify five aspects that they value for themselves and for their relationship,” said Douglas Brooks, president of the Brooks Counseling Group and longtime specialist in intimacy issues. “This can help guide their decision-making.”
All three were adamant that any sort of intimacy, whether in-person or virtual, requires clear, enthusiastic consent from everyone involved.
Establish firm boundaries, but don’t go in expecting the worst.
It’s crucial to be aware of the risks inherent in virtual intimacy, especially where photos or videos are involved. Revenge porn, while banned in 46 states, remains a valid concern. Still, says Engle, if you’ve gotten to know your match well enough and had an open, honest, adult conversation, you shouldn’t necessarily expect that they’ll abuse your trust.
“It’s really ok to expect that people are going to treat you like a human being,” she said. “It’s sad that that’s where the bar is. I don’t think we should be so skeptical as to think that everyone’s a creep.”
She added that there are precautions that could save you the embarrassment of, say, a surreptitious video recording being shared. “Discuss that taking a photo or a video would be a violation, but understand that there are still potential risks,” she said. “It’s the same kind of risk you’re taking when you send someone a nude photo.”
Brooks agrees, adding that it’s important you don’t assume your match understands this. Say it out loud or put it in writing. “Take a vow not to screen-grab or do other things that would compromise someone later on,” he said. “The more you can talk things through, the freer you can be with your interactions.”
If you’d like to avoid the entire prospect of photos or videos being taken, phone sex is a great option, Engle says.
“It’s also a good solution for anyone who has a job whereby if a naked photo of them appears, they’d be fired,” she said. “You can also use all the video functions but turn the camera off.”
Take baby steps.
If virtual intimacy is new to you, Dr. Moali advises keeping the stakes low in the beginning. “Start with sexting, and only escalate when you’re ready.”
She recommends taking a suggestive exchange to the next level only if the other person is actively reciprocating. And there’s no need to go beyond intimate back-and-forth messaging if that’s working for you and your partner.
“Sexting can be even hotter than in-person,” Dr. Moali said. “You’re describing things, and you can use your imagination.”
Accept that it won’t be perfect.
With virtual intimacy — especially on video — there can be an instinct to be performative. Ignore it, says Engle.
“This should be as authentic as you can make it given the circumstances. This isn’t about putting on some peep show. This is a video sex chat date. It’s a big distinction.”
Dr. Moali concurs. “Give yourself permission that it’s not going to be perfect,” she said. “You’re not a performer! Don’t worry about how you look. Be in the moment and focus on how it feels for you.
Trust your instincts.
Are you getting intimate on the phone, but wondering about your match’s motives halfway through? The good news about virtual dates of any kind is that you don’t even need an excuse to leave, as you might feel you do IRL. (And remember, if a Bumble match has been abusive or made you uncomfortable in any way, you can use our Block & Report feature to alert us.)
As with in-person meetups, trust your gut, says Dr. Moali. “This is the beauty of using an app,” she said. “If you see red flags, you can disconnect from that person.”
She adds that you shouldn’t be hard on yourself if your virtual date wasn’t what you expected. “It’s important, if you have a bad experience, to practice self-forgiveness,” she said. “This is such a new realm for many people.”
You should still approach this new normal — from long-distance matching, to online meetups, to virtual intimacy — with positivity, says Brooks.
“You should be having fun,” he said. He added that there are, of course, ways to get to know a Bumble match really well without involving anything remotely sexual or suggestive.
“You can be intimate without having sex,” he said, “even if it’s going on a virtual walk together somewhere.”