Because of Coronavirus, I haven’t seen my partner since 18 March. This is a challenging time for many couples, so I thought I’d write a post about digital intimacy in lockdown, sharing my personal experience of navigating this.
This is by no means a ‘how to’ post: lockdown isn’t over, and I don’t know how our relationship will be affected afterwards. My experiences might not work for everyone, and they’re the result of a lot of trial and error and following advice that came from people I trust on social media. But writing and sharing helps me process feelings, and if my oversharing helps anyone to feel less alone, then I’ll have done my job.
Intimacy Isn’t Just About Sex
People often confuse intimacy with sex, but it’s so much more. I’ve had a lot of sex, but I can probably consider just a handful of those experiences properly intimate. In truth, they felt mechanic.
Intimacy, for me, is about closeness, about feeling close to my partner, whether that’s during sex or in life in general. Our relationship started with no-chill discussions about digital technology until we grew progressively close, and I’ve now been able to share fears, hopes, dreams and disappointments with him in a way that I haven’t done with anyone. I feel physically and mentally close to him – which of course is quite a challenge when you’re meant to keep a 2m distance from people outside of your household and when many of us are separated from our loved ones.
I’m bi, but ours is a pretty straight heterosexual relationship. My partner is quite a bit older than me and has kids to look after. He doesn’t live in London, so he’s having to self-isolate away from me. When Boris Johnson announced the initial social distancing guidelines in mid-March, we both had a rude awakening about what our relationship was going to become. He worked in London before lockdown and, on the last day we saw each other, he pulled a crazy and he came to say goodbye. I haven’t seen him since then.
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This was a barefoot freestyle I did for my partner. In times of separation and #selfisolation, we’re finding every possible way to stay connected. He reads to me, because I find his voice soothing and because we are a no-chill academic couple. I dance for him. He selects the song and I do a #freestyle. He prefers it when I dance barefoot because he thinks it’s more raw, and that you can really see the emotion. I used to hate dancing #barefoot, but since #lockdown it’s been a great way to connect with myself. I’m starting to like it. Song: Intro, @thexx #longdistance #poledance #poledancersofinsta #unitedbypole
Worried About Going Digital
Although we’ve been together for just about eight months, this is the longest stable relationship I’ve been in since I left my abusive ex. My current partner is the first person I’ve been able to trust, but I was still very worried about adding a digital dimension to our relationship.
I’m an online abuse PhD researcher and I have got a deep, depressing knowledge of online shaming, harassment and revenge porn because of my studies. Because of this, sharing nude images has always worried me. On top of that, seeing naked pictures or videos doesn’t really turn me on.
My relationship with my partner is as much about talking as it is about touch. I live for his hugs and sometimes I can only calm down by sitting on his lap when he hugs me and strokes my hair. When it comes to sex, again, for us it’s always been about holding each other rather than just ‘fucking’. Clearly, now all of that is gone. No touch. I haven’t been touched by a human since mid-March.
Aside from the sadness brought by separation and by not knowing when we’re going to see each other again, I was worried about adding a digital element to our relationship. Before lockdown, we already texted really intensely. But at some point we’d get frustrated, and that frustration was only reset by meeting face-to-face. That isn’t available right now, and I felt an added sense of anxiety for fear that we’d break up because of the distance.
Still, no matter what I felt, if I wanted the relationship to continue I had to come to terms with my fears and anxiety. Here’s what we are doing to still maintain a form of intimacy even if digitally and from afar.
Digital Intimacy Is Still Based On Offline Intimacy
Although I am sad, horny and heartbroken most of the time, I recognise that I’m at least lucky to be with a person with whom I felt intimate before lockdown. If we didn’t have a form of offline intimacy before this, it would have been harder for me to gain any trust or to go forward with the relationship.
I’m not saying that new relationships developing online are doomed. I’m saying that, in my case, I needed to know I could trust my partner and that he was there for me to feel like I could continue our relationship even at such a difficult time. Which is why the following bits have been important for us.
From the moment lockdown started, my partner and I didn’t just talk about how upset we were feeling about it – we chatted about what was going to make us feel closer to teach other, and ways to preserve our current offline ‘modes’ now that meeting was not longer an option.
Luckily we’re both no-chill talkers and good texters, so we agreed we’d keep up our texting routine. Because of my anxiety, especially in the early days of the pandemic, my first thought as soon as I didn’t hear from people (like him, or my parents) was: OMG THEY’RE IN INTENSIVE CARE. So he sends me a text every morning before work, even if it’s not a full conversation, just to reassure me that everything’s fine.
Texting can only go so far. It feels weird to say that because, after years of work in PR, I HATE phone calls. And I hate video calls even more. Basically, I hate being always on. But this is the only thing we have, and a video or voice chat is way better to discuss complex ideas or even just to feel a little closer.
At the moment, for instance, I’m working on some heavy and conceptual academic papers, and discussing my structure and what I’m trying to argue with my partner reminds me of our conversations in front of a glass of wine – and it’s massively helpful. Plus, sometimes one of us is upset and seems cold via text, but we don’t realise it until we have a video chat.
So essentially, talk about what works for you. If you’ve had a heavy day of work meetings and don’t wanna have another one, fine. But always make your partner aware of your needs and make sure they make you aware of theirs so neither of you feels rejected.
Sexy Digital Products / Apps We’ve Been Using
Because of lockdown, we’ve both had to overcome our initial reluctance to show and see sexy stuff online. It wasn’t easy. On my side, I was afraid of having to show too much and, since I receive LOADS of dick pics/videos on Instagram (thanks for nothing, creeps), I really didn’t want a picture of my partner’s dick. My partner doesn’t enjoy taking selfies or pictures of himself (although I’m training him to become a poser bae, and it’s working).
We discussed all our reservations. You know me, you’ve seen my Instagram: there isn’t much that I don’t already show. So sticking to my Instagram aesthetic but for pictures I only take for my partner has been a good compromise. So try to work out how much you’re willing to give, what you’d like your partner to send you, and if they are ok with that, and take it from there.
For the love of God, DO NOT use Zoom for sexy time. I use it a lot for teaching, but as you can read in this post it has had quite a few privacy and trolling issues recently. So not ideal for stuff that you really wanna keep private.
If my partner and I decide to wear a bit less, we go with the self-destruct mode on Telegram, and we’ve agreed no picture is going to be saved by the other person. We’ve also agreed we’re equally ‘blackmailable’ because of our day jobs, and I personally don’t often feel ashamed anyway, so this has been working.
Telegram’s self-destruct mode is also great for sexting, if you’d rather not have it on record. Again, for sexting, communication is key: you need to already have an established sexting mode (which we had because we waited quite a bit before sleeping together), or discuss what you’d like to read / hear / see. This is part of offline intimacy anyway, right?
You could, for instance, share your fantasies about the next time you meet and have sex (whenever that might be, ugh). You could record yourself having an orgasm. You could send pictures. Whatever floats your boat: there are lots of opportunities to keep some sort of sex life going, even if it’s not ideal.
Encrypted voice call, video call and messaging app Wire, too, has been a life-saver. On the app, conversations are end-to-end encrypted, so no one except the participants can read the messages. It’s open source, so its code is publicly viewable and it can be examined for security holes. So if we’d like to feel closer and have some sort of ‘realistic’ experience where we can actually see each other naked, we use Wire.
I feel I need to personally thank and hug every single company who’s ever sent me a sex toy after this pandemic cause DAMN, I think I’d go crazy without them. Luckily, Self & More have come to my rescue.
Self & More is an online, London-based sex toy boutique and a self-funded, woman-owned start-up. The boutique’s aim is to empower people to explore their sexuality and make informed decisions about the sex toys that they buy.
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How completely adorable is the newest addition to the Le Wand wand collection?! This limited edition ‘Feel My Power’ vibrator was designed by @hellomynameiswednesday who is a queer, trans illustrator and activist whose power comes from their cheerful and bright designs that have a deeper message — trans rights are human rights, fighting non-binary erasure, and uplifting their community to help shine a spotlight on mental health (to name a few). As well as the powerful wand, you get all the goodies pictured, including a special edition travel case, patches, key ring, tattoo stickers and postcards. Available in the Self & More shop while stocks last 💕
What I love about it is that Self & More doesn’t use gender labels on their site because sex toys do not have genders. The owner Poppy launched her boutique because she was frustrated by the way that many large sex toy retailers view female pleasure through the male gaze, so she decided to do something about it.
After I described my situation to her, she recommended the We-Vibe Moxie, a super high-tech sex toy I’ve been raving about it my stories and that has helped me regain at least a form of intimacy even in lockdown.
The Moxie is an app-controlled, Bluetooth vibrator – which means that your partner can control it from anywhere. To do so, they have to download the We-Connect app on their phone and they need to connect with you from the app. You will then have to connect your vibrator to your app, and once your partner has accepted to join your session, they can drive the vibrator from their end, changing its speed and frequency.
This is what the interface looks like from your partner’s end. They can either choose the scribble setting below, or the app’s own different pulse settings. The waves you see are the vibrator’s variations in intensity.
[Yes he did screen record this because we’re both tech geeks.]
Using the Moxie is intuitive and fun. My partner and I jumped on a call and got connected to the app at the same time. The fun part was that, by doing it on a call, he could hear me come. Of course, this does not supplement actual offline touch, but it felt pretty close, especially in these circumstances.
My only recommendation is to try it when you’re not super duper horny, because sometimes connecting your toy to your phone’s Bluetooth is quite fiddly and if you are as horny as I get sometimes, you’ll get frustrated.
The Moxie is really tiny, and I went for it not only because it can be controlled remotely, but also because I’m excited to try it for different types of playtime when this is hopefully all over. This is because the toy fits perfectly in your panties, so you could technically connect to it and wear it while out on a date if you’re into that.
The Moxie has been great because I often don’t have super intense orgasms when I masturbate, since as soon as I get into it I just stop aiming at things right. This is probably because it’s always a learning process, and because I started quite late. So using the Moxie – or a sex toy of your choice – while sexting with a partner can be great if you have the same problem, as your partner will feel like they have some sort of agency over your pleasure, and also the toy does the majority of the work.
If you want to try it, you can use my affiliate link by clicking on the banner below and my discount code to get 10% off your order.
As I mentioned before, sex isn’t the only element of our relationship and of our intimacy. While the face-to-face element of our relationship has fallen through so far, there are small things that we do for each other that make us feel like the other is still part of our lives.
My partner reads to me, because I find his voice soothing. He records me voice notes of him reading everything from Harry Potter to more theoretical non-fiction. Sometimes his voice cracks, and even if it’s quite upsetting it’s almost like a weekly source of meditation for me.
I dance for him. He chooses a song and I dance to it for him, usually without heels, because he things it’s more raw and he can see what I’m feeling. I wasn’t a huge fan of barefoot dancing before the lockdown, but now it’s a huge part of my training and I’m really enjoying it.
On top of this, when our relationship first started we made playlists for each other on Spotify and keep adding to them every week. The songs often represent our mood and they’re nice to work to or dance to, and they help us give each other some insight even into our music taste, something we’d normally discuss over dinner.
Finally, we have a weekly movie night where we watch a movie at the same time. We use an extension to Chrome called TwoSeven, where you can login with your Amazon Prime or Netflix and watch something together with a tiny screen next to the movie showing your partner. When we do that, we get a drink, we chat, we interrupt the movie if necessary, and it’s the closest thing we get to our weekly dates.
Digital Intimacy Is A Lot of Work… But It’s Worth It
The above tips might make it sound like it’s all been plain sailing, but it hasn’t. I’m very sensitive at the moment: I feel like my depression has come back with a bang, and when I’m PMSing I struggle to do anything without crying. Because of this, I get upset about a lot of things that I might solve quite quickly with a hug and a kiss when meeting face-to-face. Being a British man over 45, my partner, too, is sometimes not great at communicating is emotions and frustrations, so things come up later.
So I guess what I’m saying is: intimacy, and especially digital intimacy in lockdown, is hard. It’s a lot of work. It’s constant negotiation and I have no idea where we’ll be in two months. But I’m very grateful to even have this person in my life right now, and I hope that sharing my experiences can help others feeling equally distraught. Stay safe, and if you have your own tips, please do share! xxx