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Post-Lockdown Life Is the Opposite of Horny

Don’t let all the thirsty tweets fool you: For singles in countries like New Zealand, the return to ‘normal’ life has been a real boner-killer

When Germany’s COVID-19 restrictions were initially eased to allow citizens off the country’s first lockdown, Richard, a 32-year-old editor and expat, assumed it was time to get laid. “I’ve been raging horny basically the entire year,” Richard says (all names have been changed for privacy). “I was kinda expecting people to be on a horny rampage, given how apocalyptic 2020 has been.” He immediately jumped on dating apps and lined himself up a string of dates, but things fizzled once they moved into the bedroom. “Whenever it came to actually doing it with anyone, it felt like I couldn’t handle it,” he continues. “I was either unable to perform, or just wasn’t into it.”

James, a 42-year-old consultant in New Zealand, had a similar experience. “During lockdown, there wasn’t a lot to do except be horny,” he explains. “There was a lot of pointless scrolling online, which meant exposure to a lot of thirst traps, and there was also a huge influx of people on dating apps, with very little to do during the day. It’s not a very sophisticated point, but the entirety of lockdown seemed like a huge build-up toward some kind of release.” 

But James’ anticipated “release” didn’t pan out the way he expected, either. “I changed my Tinder bio to say, ‘Looking for my soulmate/anyone who’s free in the 30-60 minutes immediately following lockdown,’” he continues. “In reality, though, as soon as we were allowed out again, all I wanted to do was meet up with my friends and sit in bars and drink, or even just go for walks together.”

As we’ve extensively covered previously, quarantine has been a horny time. Our social media feeds have become an inescapable barrage of thirst traps, “hole on main” and cum jokes; public horniness has become an increasingly acceptable coping mechanism. But as various locations ease their lockdown restrictions and sex becomes a concrete possibility, some people are finding reality to be far less horny than they imagined. A return to “normal” life isn’t the fuck-fest they had hoped for.

For Mark, a 34-year-old student in New Zealand, the key problem is that his partners aren’t physically available. During lockdown, he picked up some digital lovers in different cities and countries — mostly people who were platonic friends before the pandemic — and he’s been sexting and swapping nudes with them. “There was always an implicit understanding that it wasn’t going to turn physical,” he explains. “It was a combination of having a lot more private time to fill and a little bit of encouragement from other people being horny, like a horny feedback loop.” 

For others, though, the lack of post-lockdown action is because of residual anxiety. Richard puts his inability to perform down to his “nervous system [being] a wreck from all the stress,” and Dave, a 48-year-old journalist in Washington D.C., is still cautious about the virus. “The state and our politicians can say we’re safe, but you still don’t know what Person X has been up to,” he explains. “You have no idea who they’ve been with in a room for 15 minutes, let alone who they’ve been with, so that kept a lid on the overt horniness.” Dave also says his demographic includes a lot of fellow single parents, which adds an additional layer of complexity. “It’s like, ‘She seems highly responsible,’” he continues, “‘but what if her ex is a covidiot who passes it to her kids, who then pass it to her?’”

Even for those not overly concerned about contracting coronavirus, the pandemic is still a conversational downer, which can dampen the mood and make dates run less smoothly. “Dealing with masks and restricted capacity made for some awkwardness,” says Josh, a 35-year-old lawyer in Colorado. “Plus, it was apparent we’d all been stuck at home for months and weren’t really sure how to act around people. It almost felt like the generic talk you’d hear on late-night interviews because of the lack of activity, like, ‘How’ve you been holding up through all this?’ and ‘I think I’ve watched everything on Netflix at this point.’” 

Perhaps another reason for the post-lockdown anticlimax is that not everyone was quite as horny as they proclaimed. As my editor Alana Hope Levinson argued several months ago, being horny on main became more of a social trend than a real expression of lust during quarantine, which had the downside of drowning out the genuinely horny. “O.G.s worry our culture is being co-opted,” she wrote at the time. “[A] specific digital experience is being drained of any authenticity, edge and humor. No one can know for sure if someone is truly horny when they post or if it’s a grift for likes.” Or as MEL columnist Desi Jedeikin put it: “Their horny is for attention; I actually want to fuck.”

But those who exaggerated their horniness might not have all been cynical grifters; they may have been genuinely mistaking their own feelings. Considering how his horniness evaporated as soon as he could spend quality time with friends, James thinks he was misdiagnosing the problem all along. “It’s like when you think you’re hungry when you’re actually just dehydrated,” he says, “except I thought I was horny when I was really just lonely.”