1 In 4 People Had Sex With A Roommate During Lockdown, Survey Finds

Contributing Sex & Relationships Editor By Kelly Gonsalves
Contributing Sex & Relationships Editor
Kelly Gonsalves is a sex educator, relationship coach, and journalist. She received her journalism degree from Northwestern University, and her writings on sex, relationships, identity, and wellness have appeared at The Cut, Vice, Teen Vogue, Cosmopolitan, and elsewhere.
1 In 4 People Had Sex With A Roommate During Lockdown: An Anthropologist On Why

When we were deep in the throes of lockdown earlier this year, many parts of our lives changed drastically—including, for anyone not living with a partner, suddenly having almost no access to sex. No bars, no parties, no get-togethers with friends, and no dates with strangers from an app meant sex was suddenly almost totally unavailable.

And so desperate times called for desperate measures.

According to Match's newly released Singles in America study, a significant number of people started having sex with their roommates during lockdown.

The rise of "situational sex."

Nearly 1 in 4 single people had sex with a non-romantic roommate in the past six months, according to the Match survey of 5,000 U.S. singles. Younger people were the most willing to cross the line, with 33% of millennials and 46% of Gen Z getting in bed with a roomie. 

"It didn't surprise me at all," Helen Fisher, Ph.D., the biological anthropologist and Match's chief scientific adviser who led the study, tells mbg.

Many people end up living with someone they don't know that well or at all out of convenience and affordability, she says, and they don't actually end up spending much time together. But the pandemic forced these types of roommates together. 

"During the lockdown they were forced to spend a LOT of time together, dine together, play games, watch TV, and mourn their losses together. This 'self-disclosure' leads to intimacy," she explains. "And with little else to do, they eventually begin to find their roommates attractive, funny, kind, and comfortable in new ways. And this can easily lead to kissing, cuddling, and more—to relieve stress, entertain themselves, and explore this readily available option: hooking up."

The unusual spike in sex between roommates is an example of what sex scientists call situational sexual behavior, which refers to when people adopt different sexual behaviors because social or environmental factors have made their normal sexual preferences and behaviors unavailable.

"One's normal sexual tastes, desires, and opportunities are not available," Fisher explains, "so men and women change their behaviors to fit this less desirable situation. This is very common in jails, other enclosed institutions, and even when one is traveling alone in unfamiliar/unknown places. Under these less desirable circumstances, men and women simply change their priorities and behaviors to suit the moment."

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What does it mean?

People who happened to sleep with their roommates during the pandemic haven't necessarily been secretly lusting after them all along. Rather, the context just made having sex with this particular person turn into a desirable option when it previously hadn't been.

Fisher adds that all the situational sex isn't anything to worry about. "Humankind has been changing their sexual behaviors to suit the moment for millions of years. And as soon as we get back to more normal dating, men and women will return to their normal habits, tastes, and opportunities," she explains.

The only exception to that, of course, is if real romantic feelings also bubble up in the midst of all that self-disclosure and situational sex. Fisher personally suspects that many of these sexual experiences between roommates probably did lead to love "...or other complications."

Relevantly, so-called turbo relationships have also boomed amid the pandemic. Breakups too. Match's survey found 1 in 4 singles had gone through a breakup during the lockdown.

So is it a good idea to start a relationship with someone just because you happened to be living with them at the time of a traumatic global event? That's up for debate. But just in case, here are some tips on how to keep things from getting messy while living with an ex.

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