If you are currently active on a dating app, you are well aware that “quarantine and chill” is trending. Lots of people have updated their bios to let you know exactly what it means to them: “let’s meet up in public – 6 feet apart,” “virtual meet ups only,” “willing to break social distancing guidelines for you” (eye roll), “will trade toilet paper for sex” (thanks so much for the offer but TP is now stocked and on sale at Sobeys…).
In addition to STIs, add Covid-19 to the list of infectious diseases you are going to want to protect yourself against these days, and a condom will not help you here. Various sexual health guidelines have been released to help us have safer sex during Covid. The take home is this: sexual contact with new partners or persons who are not in the same household is not recommended at this time. So unless you are ready to merge households with your online match, it is recommended to fill your sexual needs in other more sanitary ways. Sexting, chaturbating (mutually masturbating while online chatting), phone sex, and/or video sex, to name a few.
With Covid at play, virtual dating has become the recommended way to date. Dating apps have added additional date-from-home functions such as a video chat where matches can connect over video call. Promotional ads have also adjusted accordingly – promoting ways to go on virtual dates so people can stay safe while remaining connected, as well as letting users know this is not the right time to meet in person or to be “swapping spit.”
Although these are unprecedented times for dating and our sex lives, it may come as no surprise that online dating is thriving (what else is there to do?). As a result of loneliness, boredom, or maybe watching too many rom-coms, dating apps are experiencing record numbers for both customers and activity. Bumble Canada, for example, saw a 56% increase in video calls, a 33% increase in messages sent, and a 100% increase in the length of conversations and video calls after lockdown hit (end of March 2020).
As many of us turn to online dating apps without the intention of meeting up in person, experts have mentioned that there may be some added benefits. One being that people will establish deeper connections before meeting in person – taking things slower and feeling less pressure to meet in person before they are ready. Having your first date virtually also poses less risk of physical sexual violence (an idea that is worth considering post-pandemic). Even though dating virtually will relieve the potential for experiencing in-person sexualized violence (and contracting Covid-19), it is important to be mindful of how this shift may be increasing sexualized violence that is occurring online.
But how can I experience sexualized violence online? It is important to note that sexualized violence is a broad term that encompasses much more than sexual assault – it may or may not involve physical contact. Sexualized violence can take many forms online such as sexual exploitation, sexual coercion, sexual harassment, stalking, distribution of sexually explicit images without consent, and unwanted sexualized attention including sexist remarks or jokes, homophobic remarks, transphobic remarks, leering, persistent and aggressive come-ons, and sending unwanted images or videos.
If you are using online dating apps to combat loneliness and frustrations, feel no shame – sext your quarantine away. I would recommend, however, that you go about it as safely as possible. Some safety tips are below. Do beware that all of the tips and tricks in the world will not completely alleviate the risks of sexting, sharing images, or engaging in other online sexual activities. Always consider the possibility that what you share may be shared further – not everyone is who they pretend to be, and even Prince or Princess Charming can turn to revenge porn when you ride off of Tinder with another match.
Whether you are turning to dating apps for love or a just a social distraction, stay safe and be kind to each other online!
- Consent matters: It is super important to always practice consent, including when online. Don’t send unwanted messages or pictures to anyone – ever. You may think it is a nice surprise, but in reality, it is sexual harassment. Always communicate with the person you are sexting with/sending nudes to and ensure they are willing and consensual – consent goes two ways (consent to give and consent to receive). Be clear and specific about what you want and your expectations for both giving and receiving. Communication also needs to be active and remain open at every stage of advancement – just as in person. Someone may want nudes one day and not the next (we all remember the famous tea video). Just as in person, sex is safe and fun when both people are comfortable and consensual.
- Keep your nudes anonymous: When sending nudes, it is safest to assume that they will be shared beyond who they are meant for. If this concerns you, tailor your nudes accordingly. If you want to always be able to say “that’s not me,” take nudes that conceal your identity as much as possible. Leave your face out of them as well as any other identifiable features (ex. tattoos, birthmarks, scars, jewellery).
- Also be cautious that the background of your photo does not identify you either – paperwork or envelopes with your name or address, photos of you and your friends, artwork, pets, and/or furniture. Do not just use an app to blur out or cover over your background – this can easily be reversed.
- Turn off the live photo camera feature – this feature often captures additional background footage and audio.
- You can turn off your location when you are taking nudes so the image is not encrypted with your geographic location, which can be traced back to you.
- Do your research: This goes for both the people you’re talking to and the platforms you’re using.
- For the people you match with, spend some time fact checking. You can google them, look for social media accounts (check that they have same photos as their dating profile), and ask any mutual friends you have about them. Before taking the next step to set up a phone or video call, make sure you feel comfortable with the person and not just the profile.
- For the platforms, if you choose to use the features that are on the dating app itself, make sure you know how they work and what they store/own. With the extra time you have on your hands, read those agreements (the one you probably skipped right over when setting up your online profile). FaceTime is end-to-end encrypted so you may want to move off the app and onto FaceTime for any steamy video calls (the 2020 version of from the couch to the bedroom). The other person can still record, screen shot, or have others present – make sure to consider the good and bad of each platform. No platform is perfect or completely safe.
- Check your phone settings too – your nudes may be getting automatically saved to your camera roll or backed up to the cloud.
- Set boundaries/expectations: Remember, you don’t have to do anything that you don’t want to do until you’re ready. So, don’t feel the need to share (ex. share nudes, sext, have video sex) or disclose anything (ex. personal details or information) under pressure. Constantly check in with yourself and make sure you are safe and comfortable. You can’t unshare it.
- Get comfortable messaging before taking things further. If you decide to have a video date, sext, share nude images, etc., set expectations in advance. These may be about the amount of time you will be available for on a call (putting time limits can help with boundaries and comfort level), topics of conversation that you are and are not comfortable with (sexual or otherwise), if your images are to be deleted right away and not shared with others (again, just because you can say it, doesn’t mean it is going to happen). Trust your gut if you are getting bad vibes.
- If the date is going in an inappropriate or uncomfortable direction, activate your exit plan (at least it has never been easier –hang up). You can also unmatch, block, and report the person to the service you are using and/or your local police.