1 In 4 People Had Sex With A Roommate During Lockdown, Survey Finds
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."
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.
Kelly Gonsalves is a multi-certified sex educator and relationship coach helping people figure out how to create dating and sex lives that actually feel good — more open, more optimistic, and more pleasurable. In addition to working with individuals in her private practice, Kelly serves as the Sex & Relationships Editor at mindbodygreen. She has a degree in journalism from Northwestern University, and she’s been trained and certified by leading sex and relationship institutions such as The Gottman Institute and Everyone Deserves Sex Ed, among others. Her work has been featured at The Cut, Vice, Teen Vogue, Cosmopolitan, and elsewhere.
With her warm, playful approach to coaching and facilitation, Kelly creates refreshingly candid spaces for processing and healing challenges around dating, sexuality, identity, body image, and relationships. She’s particularly enthusiastic about helping softhearted women get re-energized around the dating experience and find joy in the process of connecting with others. She believes relationships should be easy—and that, with room for self-reflection and the right toolkit, they can be.
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