As the weather warms up and millions of people re-enter the dating pool after their vaccinations against Covid-19, Megan Thee Stallion’s song Hot Girl Summer has become a chant of sorts among those ready to be free of quarantine.
The consensus is simple; that summer 2021 will be a season of loosened inhibitions, standards and safety protocols, and that we should all be prepared.
For some, the belief that this summer will be momentous in terms of dating, love and sex, is one that comes from looking to history, with frequent references to the 1918 flu pandemic and the subsequent roaring 20s.
Others are simply ready to mingle and engage with strangers, in varying degrees of intimacy, after more than a year of not doing so, with many citing a desire to finally return to “normal” - or to at least make up for the time spent inside.
With the expectation that this will be the summer of casual sex, and the New York Post going as far as labelling it “slutty summer,” we sought expert opinions on what we can actually expect in the coming months.
According to author and social psychologist Dr Justin Lehmiller, PhD, a research fellow at The Kinsey Institute and scientific advisor to Lovehoney, the answer isn’t a simple yes or no, as initial research suggests that people are currently split in their attitudes towards casual sex.
“When it comes to attitudes toward casual sex, our Kinsey Institute data suggest that the pandemic has affected different people in different ways,” he explained. “Institute data suggests that the pandemic has affected different people in different ways.”
“Some of our participants say that they plan to have more partners in the future - they’re going to be making up for lost time or just being more active while they can because they know the future is uncertain.”
Alternatively, Dr Lehmiller said that there have also been participants who have said that they “plan to have fewer partners and less sex,” a mindset he told us stems from “both anxiety, as well as a re-prioritisation of committed relationships”.
“So we’re likely to see a rise in casual sex for some, and a decline for others,” he hypothesised.
He also noted that hesitancy stemming from safety risks will continue to play a large part in attitudes towards casual sex and encounters with strangers, and that there is “still a lot we don’t know about how getting vaccinated will change sexual risk-taking behaviour”.
For example, while some individuals may see having the vaccination as a green light for sexual risk-taking, others will remain cautious until we have long-term data on how long immunity lasts and whether the vaccine protects against Covid variants.
Overall, Dr Lehmiller told us that, while we will likely see a rise in sexual behaviour this summer compared to last summer, “sexual behaviour [last summer] was much lower than normal, according to our data”.
And, as for whether this summer will meet the expectations of a wild, post-pandemic reckoning, Dr Lehmiller isn’t convinced, considering we are still far from having the virus fully under control.
“For things to really return to normal, I think we’ll need to be in a place where there’s really a widespread sense that this virus is under control and is no longer a major threat,” he said. “Because there’s still so much we don’t know, it’s possible that this might be a matter of months, but it could also be years depending on whether enough people are willing to get vaccinated and what happens as the virus continues to evolve.”
However, according to Dr Lehmiller, online dating, which saw a huge rise in popularity amid the pandemic, is likely here to stay, at least for those who were successful, as he expects that “for those who had positive experiences with it, this behaviour is likely to persist and maybe even increase”.
The increase in online interactions will apply to those looking for casual online sex as well, according to Emma Sayle, the CEO of sex party company Killing Kittens, who told us that the business experienced an initial 330 per cent rise in membership applications at the beginning of the pandemic, and that that number has continued to rise.
Sayle also pointed to the popularity of Killing Kittens’ zorgies, or Zoom orgies, which the company started in April 2020, as well as the sign-ups for the Killing Kittens chat app and social network, which boast more than 190,000 members around the world and which were also launched last summer.
According to Sayle, the success of the company’s digital side was the result of both new and old members signing up, but noted that many members have said they may never have engaged in virtual orgies pre-pandemic.
“The adult social network and the dating element is going nowhere, that was booming before last year, so people aren’t going to suddenly get off apps,” she said.
In regards to in-person encounters, speaking to The Independent, psychotherapist Amanda Luterman, MA, MED, advised us not to put too much stock into reports of individuals already starting to embrace a “slutty summer,” as it isn’t a new phenomenon.
“I really feel as though there may be more of a public discussion of what’s going on, but what is going on is already happening,” Luterman said, explaining that, throughout the pandemic, she has heard from a mix of 20 and 30 somethings about dating and sex and “it’s not like it stopped”.
However, she does expect that, with summer, there will be an increase in casual sex in certain populations because “everyone is a little bit vulnerable and really excited,” a phenomenon that she hopes people navigate carefully.
According to Luterman, her concern stems from a belief that people may not actually be emotionally ready for meaningless flings considering the trauma of the last year, or that they may lower their standards just to participate in Hot Girl Summer.
“I think that once people start coming out and dating there is going to be a decrease in commitment and a decrease in accountability in the dating scene and emotional accountability,” she told us, adding that, while there may be “enthusiastic consent to engage”, people will be “coming at these experiences with emotional vulnerability considering the dry spell and it may be difficult to navigate this burst of choice”.
To help individuals navigate what may turn out to be the summer of casual sex, or what she considers a “usual summer,” Luterman said: “I want to encourage people to make sure their standards are on point. Because there is a burst of enthusiasm. So don’t just reach for the junk food, because you don’t want to end up with a tummy ache after.”
“Considering the isolation, as a collective we need to encourage people to keep the standards up even if they are getting their first meal after hunger,” she added.
However, there are two potential upsides that Luterman thinks may come from summer coinciding with a decrease in social distancing: more comfort talking about sexually transmitted diseases and the “potential for actual connection”.
In regards to STDs, Luterman told us that she thinks the global conversation about vaccines, immunity and precautions may work to an advantage, as it may make people more comfortable talking generally about safe sexual encounters and could “normalise sexual health”.
“It’s going to be probably a regular summer with a collective bond, a little bit of a faster pace heading out of the gate than there maybe has been in the past, and hopefully there will be more accountability for vaccines and STIs,” she said, adding: “Has our discussion about vaccinations and immunity permeated discourse enough to talk about STIs?”
The arrival of summer may also benefit those in relationships, as well as those who found themselves in an unwanted relationship during the pandemic, with Luterman noting that the experience may have helped people realise what they actually want out of a partner.
“People were willing to make relationships work that were not necessarily their first choice. Now they are going to be a little stricter and now they are going to find relationships that are authentically good for them,” she hypothesised, adding that the potential for meaningful connections may come as a result of the world undergoing a “collective experience” and ultimately forming a shared bond.
If you ask Sayle about what we can expect from the upcoming summer, however, you receive a different answer, with the Killing Kittens CEO telling us that she fully believes people will be embracing a “hedonistic lifestyle” as the world reopens.
Alleging that people will be more open to anything from “threesomes to jumping out of an aeroplane,” Sayle said: “That’s what happens when you realise life can’t be taken for granted and you have to get out and explore when you can.”
She also argued the historical perspective as proof, telling us: “Centuries of pandemics and wars and plagues and everything that happens, there has always been wine and orgies after.
“We are animals and we are social creatures and you need that to make us who we are and keep us alive.”
For anyone unconvinced about the collective mindset towards casual sex this summer, Sayles said to look at Killing Kittens’ pre-sales for in-person events, telling us that the company has sold more than 700 tickets so far just in London and that it is nearly doubling both the number of events and tickets sold pre-pandemic.
But Sayles did admit that there may still be some hurdles to overcome before the sex-focused parties are able to return to their former glory, as attendees typically wear eye masks, but that that would not work with face masks, as it would “be ridiculous”.
However, she told us that Killing Kittens plans to do “whatever we need to operate legally,” whether that means requiring negative tests beforehand or vaccine passports, with the latter something she told us she is against.
Overall, summer 2021 may indeed live up to the expectations of one filled with more sex and less anxiety, or it could turn out to be just like any other summer - which Luterman noted are already filled with enthusiasm, opportunity and eagerness for connection.