If you had “the whole world will be massively impacted by a global pandemic” on your list of 2020 predictions last January, congrats on your prescience. For the rest of us, knowing what the future holds is a more inexact science.
But that’ll never stop experts from attempting to prognosticate, and while sex might seem like a more frivolous subject to some than epidemiology, anyone who’s ever caught a sexually transmitted infection or dealt with some kind of sexual dysfunction can tell you that sexual health is no laughing matter.
In order to give us an idea of what 2021 might look like in sexual terms, experts for Astroglide, one of the world’s foremost lubricant manufacturers, took a peek under the covers, as it were. Here’s what they foresee:
5 Sexual Health and Wellness Predictions for 2021
1. Talking About Sex Won’t Be as Taboo
Most of modern North American history has been marked by a distinct sense of taboo around sex. Discussions of sex are censored in ways big and small, from the FCC to awkward silences and quick subject changes in conversations.
According to Jess O’Reilly, Ph.D., Astroglide’s resident sexologist, that may shift in the very near future.
“My hope is that discussions regarding COVID testing will normalize conversations related to health and safety and this ought to include talking about STI testing and harm reduction,” she says. “Even public health units have openly discussed kinky sex (from glory holes in Canada to sex with masks on in the U.S.) and mainstream headlines have reflected this more open discussion. Hopefully this will lead to more detailed and meaningful conversations about all types of sex — kinky, vanilla, and everything in between.”
2. Sex Will Become Increasingly High-Tech
As old-fashioned as a simple conversation can be, it should hardly be a surprise to see sex following the wider world’s trend towards the high-tech.
“Not only have our meetings moved online, but sex and relationships have also become more digitized,” says O’Reilly. “From online dates to online orgies, ingenuity has shown that the possibilities are endless.”
While high-tech sex products are still at the margins in many cases, companies like plusOne are now sold by Walmart, and the annual tech expo CES decided to feature sex toys in 2020 and going forward. The future for sex tech looks bright indeed.
3. Either “Friends With Benefits” Will Be Popular…
This one sort of depends on how prevalent coronavirus transmission continues to be in 2021. While advances in vaccine research may lead to freer interactions in 2021 than in 2020, the pandemic’s impact on our social lives is likely to still be felt. If the vaccines aren’t completely effective, quarantine-like measures may stay in place on and off for much of the year.
In that case, one-night stands will be out of the question, potentially leading to more “friends with benefits” situations.
“One way people are meeting their sexual needs while minimizing risk is to have a regular quarantine hook-up buddy,” says Justin Lehmiller, Ph.D., Astroglide’s resident sex researcher.
“In the next year, we’re therefore likely to see people having a smaller number of one-night stands and more friends with benefits.”
4. …or STI Rates Will Probably Spike
On the flip side, it’s possible that vaccine advances will make coronavirus a thing of the past in 2021. If that happens, an expected uptick in sexual activity means we should prepare for a spike in sexually transmitted infections.
“As 2021 starts and we see the advent of one or multiple coronavirus vaccines, people will slowly return to regular life,” says Dr. Joshua Gonzalez, Astroglide’s sexual health advisor. “I suspect that may result in a significant increase in sexual activity (especially because all of us will have been quarantined for the better part of a year by then).”
While the heady release of a return to some semblance of normalcy might lead to many people feeling like it’s time for a sexual free-for-all, STIs will still be a thing, even if COVID isn’t.
“More sexual activity often translates into an increase in the prevalence of sexually transmitted infections,” adds Gonzalez. “If and when you resume some semblance of a normal sex life, make sure to practice safe sex and get tested regularly.”
5. Our Views of What Sex Is Will Broaden
Regardless of whether the sex you’re having is with a quarantine buddy or a host of strangers, it may not look the same as the sex you used to partake in.
There’s much more to it than just basic penetration, and people have increasingly begun to realize that, in part due to the way the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted people’s lives.
“Because we can’t go out and interact with the world the way we used to, and we don’t know when or if things will return to normal, people are being a bit more creative in terms of how they go about meeting their sexual needs,” says Lehmiller. “For example, in the next year, we’re likely to see people incorporating more technology into their sex lives, such as by relying more on sexting, cybersex, and sex toys that can be used from a distance.”
Good sex is primarily about two people connecting in an erotic way, whether that involves just body parts, toys, accessories, or more. It doesn’t take a crystal ball, but rather just a little bit of imagination.