Dating before the coronavirus pandemic, two people on a first encounter might discuss where they see their future going or whether they are seeing other people. Dating during the outbreak has demanded a different dealbreaker: What are their social distancing practices?
Governments, which often already champion monogamy through tax structures and other policies, are similarly concerned about promoting the integrity of couples because of a shared interest: containing the spread of the virus.
Behold the “support bubble,” as the British prime minister has dubbed it, the world’s latest dating fad — or so some public health experts hope.
Starting Saturday, single-adult households in England will be able to form a “support bubble” with one other household, Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced Wednesday, as part of the country’s easing of coronavirus restrictions.
“Support bubbles must be exclusive, meaning you can’t switch the household you are in a bubble with or connect with multiple,” Johnson said. “All those in a support bubble will be able to act as if they live in the same household, meaning they can spend time together inside each others’ homes and do not need to stay two meters apart.”
This new category includes the elderly, single parents and single people. The move is likely to help elderly citizens who have been struggling with living alone. Under the new rule, a lonely grandparent can meet with family or have grandchildren over to their house.
It’s a — relatively — permissive directive compared with a change in coronavirus rules earlier this month that made it illegal for two or more people from different households to meet up indoors or spend the night in private together. That regulation attracted widespread mockery of what many dubbed a “sex ban” on social media.
Canada, though, seems to have done it first. In early May, some Canadian jurisdictions began allowing two separate households to pair up in “double bubbles,” leading to hurt feelings among those who were left out.
The Dutch National Institute for Public Health and the Environment, known as RIVM, has similarly tried its hand at matchmaking meets sex therapist.
Single people in need should find a “cuddle buddy” or “sex buddy” with whom they can safely partner during the pandemic, it recommended in mid-May.
“Discuss how best to do this together,” RIVM suggested, according to the Guardian’s translation. “For example, meet with the same person to have physical or sexual contact (for example, a cuddle buddy or ‘sex buddy’), provided you are free of illness. Make good arrangements with this person about how many other people you both see. The more people you see, the greater the chance of [spreading] the coronavirus.”
The health institute further cautioned that people should refrain from physical relations with someone suspected to have the virus, which spreads easily through close contact and in enclosed spaces.
“Don’t have sex with your partner if they have been isolated because of [suspected] coronavirus infection,” RIVM said. “Sex with yourself or with others at a distance is possible.”
Denmark, where coronavirus cases have remained relatively low, has been even more laissez faire. “Sex is good. Sex is healthy,” Soren Brostrom, director general of the Danish Health Authority, said in April when discussing social distancing guidelines, according to the Local DK. “We are sexual beings, and of course you can have sex in this situation.”
Neighboring Sweden, in contrast, has struggled more to contain its outbreak. In late May, the nation’s Public Health Agency shared its own guidance on the do’s and dont’s of sex and relationships during a global pandemic spread through viral respiratory droplets.
“Closeness, intimacy and sex are good for well-being and public health,” it observed, according to the Swedish version of the website, the Local SE. “In relationships, where people are still meeting and are close to each other, sex is no obstacle if you and your partner, or partners, show no symptoms of illness.”
At casual dating, though, the government drew a line. “Dating and temporary sexual relationships with new partners, on the other hand, pose a risk of getting infected or infecting others,” the official guidance warned.
In the United States, city and local governments have similarly drafted recommendations urging people to limit their circle of sexual partners as a coronavirus precaution.
This week, the New York City Department of Health released a document called “Safer Sex and covid-19″ laying out its ground rules.
“You are your safest sex partner,” the health department said, reminding people to wash their hands before and after masturbation. “The next safest partner is someone you live with,” it continued. The city government urged people to “limit close contact — including sex — with anyone outside your household,” while also suggesting ways to limit mouth-to-mouth proximity, such as by wearing a mask or trying new positions.
“Maybe it’s your thing, maybe it’s not, but during covid-19, wearing a face covering that covers your nose and mouth is a good way to add a layer of a protection during sex,” the health department suggested.