How the pandemic has given new meaning to dating and intimacy

·3-min read

As a result of the pandemic, more than half (55%) of young, single Americans have turned to virtual sexual intimacy more than ever before, says a new study.

A survey of 2,900 single or casually dating Americans aged 18 to 40 revealed that 45% haven't been physically intimate with someone new since the pandemic began.

Although 42% of respondents said they are open to physical intimacy after the pandemic and feel excited to get back out into the dating scene and meet new people, two-thirds will continue being just as virtually intimate after the pandemic as they were during, relying on video chats (61%), sexting (54%) and phone sex (47%).  

Sixty-four percent of singles said being virtually intimate during the pandemic changed what they consider intimacy to be. Nearly 6 in 10 (57%) respondents now place higher value on other types of intimacy, like emotional or intellectual intimacy, while 45% find less value in physical connection.

Commissioned by Plenty of Fish and conducted by OnePoll, the study found that these changes in behavior and mindset are likely to be long-lasting. In fact, 61% of singles believe sexting will be even more popular after the pandemic than it was before.

More than two in five (45%) singles said they feel more confident in their virtual sexual intimacy skills than their in-person skills, including 54% of men and 39% of women.

Over half of singles (51%) think one-night stands will become a thing of the past once the pandemic comes to an end.

Interestingly, men are more likely to agree with this sentiment than women (61% vs. 45%, respectively). Additionally, Millennials are nearly a third more likely (57%) than Gen-Z (39%) to believe that one-night stands are a pre-COVID trend. 

"Singles spent the last year adapting and learning how to date from a distance by using technology, such as video chats and livestreaming, to forge virtual connections with one another," said Kate MacLean, Dating Expert, Plenty of Fish. "These tools have fundamentally changed the way singles date, from establishing deeper connections quicker to cultivating more meaningful relationships."

The pandemic has also driven young singles to find intimacy in their own social circles. While nearly half (46%) of respondents said they've had a friend with benefits in the past, 76% said they've been in such a relationship since the pandemic began.

For 39% of these friends with benefits, their casual arrangements have progressed to official relationships. Meanwhile, 49% of friends with benefits relationships were either ended or fizzled out due to social distancing and other pandemic-related limitations.

Nearly nine in 10 (85%) of these relationships began when singles turned to their roommate or someone they've known for years platonically for a friends with benefits relationship.

"Whether engaging in virtual sexual intimacy, turning to their roommates for a friends with benefits relationship - a dating trend we like to call 'room-mate-ing' - or fulfilling their sexual needs by streaming steamy shows or subscribing to adult entertainment platforms, the pandemic has been a challenging time for everyone, especially singles," said MacLean. "As we prepare to transition out of quarantine, we look forward to ushering in this new era of sex, dating and intimacy."