At the outset of the pandemic, she bought teledildonic toys from Lovense that can be operated via Bluetooth by someone else remotely. Even though she’s asexual and doesn’t engage in partnered sex in person, she bought the toys because they seemed “fun,” and she knew she’d be stuck inside for the foreseeable future.
When searching for information on how to share control of her toys, she stumbled upon Reddit and Discord forums where people share access to their toys with others and decided to take part.
“I didn’t necessarily expect to feel as liberated as I did once I bought them,” the woman, who preferred to remain anonymous, told the Daily Dot.
Virtual sex enabled her to experience shared sexual intimacy with others, something she doesn’t usually have access to because she refrains from partnered, in-person sex due to sensory issues and discomfort with its tactile elements.
And she’s not alone in having explored virtual sex during pandemic lockdowns.
SURVEY: The joy of Zoom sex
In a survey of 238 readers conducted by the Daily Dot, 59.2% of respondents reported having had virtual sex during lockdowns related to the coronavirus pandemic. Virtual sex is mutual masturbation while communicating with another person. What’s more, 57.1% of respondents enjoyed virtual sex, and a similar percentage (52.3%) said they even plan to continue having virtual sex after the pandemic.
Rachel Wright, a psychotherapist and sexologist, told the Daily Dot via phone call that the roughly 60-40 split is consistent with what she heard about the sex lives and libidos of clients during the pandemic.
“It was pretty polarizing,” Wright said of the sex drives of her clients in lockdown: Some people had more time for masturbation and sex; others were so emotionally consumed by the news and changing guidelines that fulfilling any sexual needs was the last of their priorities.
“When COVID hit, people were all of a sudden—myself included—being hit with all of these factors changing at one time. And so the libido went kind of along for the ride,” said Wright, who added that one’s libido is like a “check engine” light for mental and physical health.
44% of readers tried virtual sex for the first time during lockdown
Statistics on how often people had virtual sex during the pandemic were not polarizing, however. Per the Daily Dot’s reporting, 17.9% of respondents had virtual sex multiple times a week, and 10.8% of respondents reported having virtual sex multiple times a month. Just over 12% percent said they only tried virtual sex once, and almost half (44.3%) of respondents said they had virtual sex for the first time during the pandemic.
Those who did have virtual sex multiple times said it helped them explore new desires, kinks, sex toys, and other sexual experiences they hadn’t had prior to the pandemic.
Kev Lamar, 34, a customer service representative from St. Louis, told the Daily Dot over the phone that he and his partner were able to discover their shared interests in using handcuffs and ties while creating a narrative together through Facetime sex. “Creating those different scenarios kind of opened the doors to conversation about, ‘Well, what about this? Would this be something you’d be interested in?” Lamar said.
Emily Motti, 25, a content creator from North Carolina, told the Daily Dot in a Zoom interview that virtual sex with partners they met online has allowed them to become more kink confident and incorporate sex toys because “the stakes are lower” during virtual sex, and it’s less intimidating than having in-person sex.
Virtual sex opens the door for exploration
Wright explained that virtual sex can allow participants to become more explorative and confident because “when we take away the ability to physically touch the other person, we may be more willing to try other things on ourselves.” That trade-off can allow for increased access to intimacy and vulnerability with ourselves and our virtual sex partners, plus motivate us to explore elements of sex that might be new to us.
Case in point, just over half (51.8%) of the Daily Dot’s survey respondents said they used toys when engaging in virtual sex, with the most commonly used toys being a vibrator (55%), a dildo (31.2%), and an anal plug (19.3%). In fact, sex toy sales from luxury sex toy retailer Lelo increased by 40%, according to Wired.
Just over 18% of survey respondents also used controlled sex toys during virtual sex to help connect with others even though they were separated physically.
“I started finding people to play with, and that was when the play became really, so much more interesting than just on my own,” the anonymous source told the Daily Dot. “Because someone else is doing what I’m feeling. That’s so much more fulfilling and validating.”
Her newfound intimacy with herself allowed her to realize new things about her own sexuality: She discovered she’s gay. Likewise, Motti transitioned from calling themselves bisexual to identifying as a lesbian and came out as nonbinary.
“That has played a role because now I wear strap ons,” Motti told the Daily Dot. Being more connected with themselves has improved their sex life a lot, too. Wright said that when it comes to sex, sexuality, and gender expression, the pandemic offered a unique opportunity for self-reflection.
Other respondents said that virtual sex is also a good option when one is feeling dysphoric and doesn’t want to be touched.
But what about respondents who didn’t partake in Zoom sex? Some said they just didn’t like it.
The downsides of Zoom sex
“I just always feel very awkward and preformative,” one survey respondent told the Daily Dot. “I can’t get in the mood.”
Privacy and consent concerns seemed to be major obstacles, too. Nearly 23% percent of respondents said they wouldn’t try virtual sex because it doesn’t seem safe. However, 23.4% of respondents said they’d be open to virtual sex if they had a trusting partner, and 15% said they’d try it if there was a secure server on which to have virtual sex.
One respondent of the Daily Dot’s survey explained that consent within virtual sex is multilayered, “not only to partake but also to record or save what is shared.”
A graphic designer from New York City, who also preferred to remain anonymous, told the Daily Dot in a phone call that virtual sex partners screenshotting sensitive material of her naked body without her consent has led her to be stringent about how she engages in virtual sex.
She said she only has virtual sex over Snapchat because the app alerts user’s when their picture or video has been screenshotted. If a virtual sex partner wants more access to the videos and pictures she sends, she sends them through Snapchat’s chat function.
“I’ll save them to my memories, then put them into the chat, and then save it into the chat of Snapchat,” she said. “So it’s still on Snapchat, and I can know if he downloads it.” She will only text pictures or videos to partners she really trusts.
“I’m definitely a little scared of FaceTime sex because it’s so live,” she said.
Social media topped virtual sex platforms list
Respondents to the Daily Dot’s survey felt similarly. Nearly 29% percent reported engaging in virtual sex via a social media video chat feature and said they chose that platform for its disappearing photo and video feature. Just under 19% percent said they used Facetime, and a similar percentage (18.3%) chose WhatsApp.
Only 11% of respondents engaged in Zoom sex, though one respondent said that participating in Zoom sex via their laptop is preferable because they don’t like having to hold their phone when on facetime.
Wright stressed that virtual sex is safe when done with consent and on a secure platform. However, she said that privacy and consent concerns should encourage us to build trust with our virtual sex partners.
“[Virtual sex] creates a more assertive environment for people,” Wright said. “If you don’t trust them to not share a screenshot, or a video, why would you be having sex with them?”
36% reported sex with strangers
Interestingly, 36% of respondents said they did not need to know someone before having virtual sex with them. Over half, however, said they did know their virtual sex partners beforehand: 21.7% of respondents reported being in a relationship with their virtual sex partner, while 22.4% said they’d known the person they had virtual sex with for “a while.”
Regardless of whether or not one knows their partner before engaging in virtual sex with them, the experience can be an opportunity to practice setting boundaries, Wright said, which helps us get in touch with what we want and need sexually.
She also indicated that the sheer uptick in virtual sex during the pandemic might make sex and talking about sex less taboo. “I find that surprising and exciting and hopeful,” she said.
Neither Zoom nor Snapchat immediately responded to the Daily Dot’s request for comment via email.
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