Summer of Love

by Dr. Justin Lehmiller

on Jun 28, 2021

As the world slowly begins to emerge back out into the open, and whispers of a second 'roaring 20s' start to build, we here at Lovehoney are rooting for something special.

With the Kinsey Institute, we have discovered that in a post-pandemic world, Americans are kinkier, couples are thriving, and singles, while hungry for love, are taking things slow and building deeper connections.

Welcome to the Summer of Love.

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To find out how the Covid-19 pandemic has affected the sex lives and relationships of Americans, we've been busy conducting the Summer of Love survey.

The results amazed us - Americans are kinkier, more committed, better satisfied, and more adventurous than ever before.

Whether you're in a relationship or single-and-ready-to-mingle, it's time to have the most sexually happy summer of your life. Lovehoney's Scientific Advisor Dr Justin Lehmiller, and certified Sex Therapist Shadeen Francis explain all.

Most Couples Emerged Stronger From the Pandemic

If you're coupled up, a wild few months of exciting sex, butterflies, and experimentation may not be the first thing you think of when it comes to summer. Lovehoney's Scientific Advisor, Dr Justin Lehmiller, disagrees...

"At the very beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, a major narrative in the popular media was that couples were going to be getting it on like crazy. With so much time on their hands, what else would they do but have constant sex?

However, as the lockdowns ensued and data started coming in, the narrative shifted dramatically. Couples weren’t having more sex, they were having less. They were reporting more struggles in their relationships. The stories started turning to infidelity, breakup, and divorce.

So how did things turn out in the end?

Some couples did indeed call it quits—but most didn’t. And the relationships that endured are healthier and stronger than ever.

Lovehoney and The Kinsey Institute recently collaborated on a study of sex, love, and relationships during and after the pandemic. We obtained a nationally representative sample of 2,000 American adults that was balanced with respect to ethnicity, geography, income, and other key demographics.

Among those who were married at the start of the pandemic, 97% are still married today. Not surprisingly, the stability rate is lower (87%) if you look across all relationship statuses (dating, engaged, etc.). But what’s clear is that the vast majority stuck it out—and those who did reaped the benefits. A few key stats:

  • 59% now feel more invested in their relationship
  • 56% of people in relationships now feel more committed to their partner
  • 55% now feel more emotional intimacy with their partner
  • 52% are now more satisfied with their relationship
  • 51% say their partner meets their sexual ideals more now than before
  • 51% now feel more passionate about their partner

It’s important to point out that these questions weren’t asked in an either/or way. So, for example, when I say that 52% are more satisfied with their relationship, this doesn’t mean that the other 48% necessarily feel less satisfied. In this case, 33% said they felt just as satisfied as they did before, with just 14% saying they feel less satisfied.

Put another way, 85% say they are at least as satisfied, it not more, than they were before. The pattern is similar across all of the relationship dimensions we inquired about, which points to an incredibly high level of resiliency and adaptability in the face of extraordinarily challenging circumstances.

I think one of the keys to understanding all of this is that couples learned to communicate more—and more effectively—during the pandemic. In fact, when we asked people how their relationships changed during the pandemic, a majority (52%) identified communicating more as a major shift. In addition, more than one-third (36%) said they made a greater effort to resolve disagreements, while 23% made new rules regarding childcare and housework.

These circumstances prompted couples to talk, to listen to one another, and to avoid letting problems spiral out of control. Their relationships are stronger now both in and out of the bedroom, and the skills they learned just might set the stage for a closer, healthier, and sexier future together."

Justin Lehmiller (1)

A Solo, Sexy Summer

When lockdowns hit, many single people began mourning their sex lives. Separated from others, how could we possibly become more in tune with our sexuality, with what we do and don't want from a partner? Will we even remember HOW to have sex when the time comes?

Take a breath. As board-certified sex therapist, educator, and author Shadeen Francis tells us, the pandemic may have actually played an important role in helping us grow.

"After over a year of social distancing, sheltering-in-place, and quarantine restrictions, it is not hard to imagine that our approach to dating and relationships may have changed. At the beginning of the pandemic we saw a lot of turmoil: breakups, conflicts, panic. All of this is common at the start of a crisis. People were having less sex, people were afraid, and most significantly, people were lonely.

Despite this, a majority of singles said that they are coming into the summer of 2021 feeling sexually curious and ready to find passionate connection, but were feeling more protective of their “me time”. This comes from the Summer of Love Survey, a recent research study led by Kinsey Institute research fellow, Dr. Justin Lehmiller, in collaboration with sexual wellness brand Lovehoney. In this nationally representative survey, it was discovered that in terms of overall quality, 32% of Americans were reporting that their sex lives are better now than they were before the pandemic!

With so many people feeling separated and alone, how could this be possible?

One simple answer is masturbation!

Forty percent of Americans say they’re masturbating more often than they did before the pandemic, and just about as many continued to masturbate just as much as before. If those numbers surprise you, I completely understand.

We don’t talk much about masturbation (I am using the global we here to refer to culturally across the United States, as a sex therapist I talk about masturbation almost every day) so we consider it taboo. However, affectionate touch and pleasurable connection are important aspects of our health. Experiencing pleasure in the wake of distress can act to reduce vigilance, reconnect us to feelings of body agency, or simply be a welcome distraction from the endless Zoom meetings, sobering infection rates, and general uncertainty of 2020.

When breathing next to someone is considered an incredibly risky activity, it stands to reason that many folks’ opportunities for partnered sex were diminished, especially for those who weren’t in sexual or romantic relationships when the lockdowns began. So, when faced with long stretches of time apart, people took pleasure into their own hands – pun intended. And they were not going into this endeavor empty-handed either; the Summer of Love survey showed that not only were singles masturbating more, more than one-third (36%) said they are using sex toys more often now than they were before. This was especially true for LGBT folks and cisgender heterosexual men, many of whom had their first sex toy experience during lockdown).

This reality sits in direct opposition to the shaming message we often get that in times of stress or struggle we “have more important things to worry about than sex”. The data reinforces what any sexuality professional already knows, that for many people, the statement is just not true! Sexual pleasure is still important to us, even as we have other important concerns to manage in our lives. In fact, 81% of singles in the survey were clear that masturbation is at least somewhat important to their overall wellbeing. Connection helps us survive, including our connections to ourselves.

A worry that often enters my clinical office about masturbation is whether it will ruin partnered experiences. On the contrary, having a deeper sense of understanding and connection to self positively enhances our relationships with others. When partners know what they do and don’t want it allows them to set boundaries, advocate for their needs, and co-create experiences where everyone’s desires are considered. Therefore, people who masturbated during their time apart may have made it more likely that their sexual needs and desires are met with future sexual partners. A whopping 63% of singles said that they’ve learned new things about themselves through masturbation since the pandemic began, such as new sources of pleasure or new sexual turn-ons. That is a lot of people with new opportunities for satisfying sex, solo or otherwise.

If you are interested in exploring your own relationship to masturbation and pleasure, here are 3 tips I would like to offer to help you find your groove:

1. Don’t Force It: Orgasm for most people is the watched pot that won’t boil. Worry and stress are incredible arousal killers. If you are trying to fight your way to an orgasm, you are likely moving away from pleasure and into pressure, which is the opposite of what you want! You only have one mission, should you choose to accept, and that is pleasure. Instead of hyper focusing on orgasm, check in on what feels good in the moment, and make adjustments where needed to

2. Expand your Horizons: Masturbation does not have to be focused only on your genitals. Your entire body has sensitive tissues and receptive nerve endings, which is all you need for a good sensory time. Explore your body. Use different kinds of pressure, move in different directions, and don’t be afraid to experiment with objects that might provide a different sensation like a feather or a wartenburg pinwheel. If focusing on touch feels intimidating, explore other kinds of sensory pleasure: what smells might you enjoy? What do you like to see or hear that makes you feel excitement or surrender? What flavours might make your body say mm, yesssss?

3. Sharing is Caring: If you find yourself in a partnered sexual experience, let them know what you’ve learned. What turns you on, what turns you off? What would you like to try? What settings help you stay present? What positions do you enjoy? You might even consider masturbating together, either in person or virtually!

As many cities relax restrictions and re-open space for social gatherings, don't forget what you have learned on your own. Whether you are focused on dating or on masturbating (or likely, both), the ability to pay attention to your feelings, explore with curiosity, and prioritize your pleasure are all keys to making 2021 your hottest summer yet."

Shadeen Francis Primary Headshot 2020

Helping You Reach The Next Level

Ready to start a new bedroom adventure? Lovehoney Sexpert Ashley Cobb has picked her favorite Lovehoney products that you need for a long hot summer.

“It's a hot vax summer but it also needs to be a safe sex summer too. Being in a post-pandemic world has made people a little more cautious than before. Durex Pleasure Pack Assorted Condoms are 12 assorted condoms with texture, flavor, and extra-lubrication so you can have an exciting safe summer of love. Plus, do you know what know what goes perfectly with condoms? Lube. Lovehoney "Enjoy" water-based lubricant, to be exact, is the ideal match for condom sex. It provides an extra glide during intimate play and is compatible with latex and polyurethane condoms.”

Our Top Picks for Your Sexiest Ever Summer

Dr. Justin Lehmiller

Written by Dr. Justin Lehmiller.
Justin Lehmiller is an American social psychologist, author and Lovehoney Sexpert.

Originally published on Jun 28, 2021. Updated on Jun 29, 2021