Love in a time of Coronavirus COVID-19

We’re watching the stock market crash, talk of schools and universities being closed, and we’re being urged to stay indoors, alone in our houses, away from gatherings. So what does this mean for our dating lives?

Daily, in my country, we’re told of firstly, the new pandemic status, secondly, how it’s currently affecting our nation, and thirdly, what it means to the economy, specifically the world stock markets and workplaces.

There are scary facts to digest about how the unprecedented virus has affected other nations, like China, where it began in Wuhan, and Iran, and now Italy. Today the United States closed its borders to travellers from Europe. Large sporting and cultural events have been cancelled, there is still talk of postponing the Olympics – where will end?

Of course, we all hope that we or our loved ones don’t become infected and confined to our houses or a hospital, or even worse, that we are among the small percentage of people who have a serious or life-threatening response to COVID-19.

Coronavirus meme

But in the meantime, now and in the coming months, life will go on.

We will still want to eat out, meet people, date and get intimate. Or are we facing an unparalleled change to the way we meet and mate? Will it still feel safe to meet in a crowded bar or go see a band?

The world Novel Coronavirus Situation shows us the number of cases updated weekly. At the time of writing, there have been almost 128,000 confirmed cases, just over 4,700 deaths and 118 countries affected. Importantly, more than 68,000 have recovered!

There’s talk of the virus being spread through breathing the same air in the same room as someone with COVID-19, which is a vastly different scenario than the common cold or seasonal influenza that is spread through infected droplets and direct transmission.

If, as is currently thought, “multiple modes of transmission are likely at play, including large droplets, small droplets (or aerosols), and contaminated hands,” social and intimate activities like dating will pose even greater risks than usual.

So I did a quick Google on ‘spreading germs through kissing’.

It was never something I thought about in the heat of the moment on a hot date, and certainly not when I was lusting for someone via their profile on a dating app.

In Here’s How Many Bacteria Spread Through One Kiss, Time Magazine says that a 10-second French kiss can spread 80 million bacteria between mouths. And that’s not even considering viruses like the common cold, seasonal influenza and sexually transmitted diseases like chlamydia.

Expanding on this theme, kissing can spread many germs including those that cause tooth decay and glandular fever – known as the Kissing Disease – and viruses considered part of the Herpes family including Epstein-Barr, varicella-zoster (Chickenpox) and Herpes Simplex (cold sores).

Kissing may also transmit Hepatitis B through saliva and warts. Euwww… 

If we want to get really scary, mention Meningococcal disease, “a potentially life-threatening condition that includes meningitis, inflammation of the membranes (meninges) that surround the brain and spinal cord, and septicaemia. These bacteria can be spread either through direct contact or via droplets. Studies show that…only deep kissing seems to be a risk factor.”

But on the upside, if you make it to ‘couple’ status, you can expect to have your germs merge somewhat:

“Apparently, being with somebody for an extended amount of time and having a relationship leads to a similar collection of bacteria on the tongue.”

Studies have shown that the more a couple kisses, the more bacteria they share. So kissing is actually a very healthy activity – I will be sharing that snippet with my beloved! “Kissing might also act as a form of immunization, he adds, allowing you to build up resistance from exposing yourself to more microorganisms.”

Passionate kissing is also known to create many other health and wellbeing benefits, like emotional bonding, stress reduction, foreplay – deep kissing your partner can lead to sexual intercourse, which “enhances a person’s physical and mental health”.

And kissing is said to provide a metabolic boost by burning kilojoules, plus it gives us a healthier mouth by increasing saliva, which contains substances that fight bacteria, viruses and fungi. Overall, kissing can increase immunity through exposure to germs that inhabit your partner’s mouth.

The Germy Truth About Kissing urges us to read up before we pucker up. “The human mouth contains more bacteria than there are people on the planet (that’s close to 7 billion,” the article declares.

Their upside is that “Germs exist throughout our bodies, not to mention all over the environment around us. And germs aren’t all bad.”

Is there such a thing as Safe Kissing?

Prevention is the key, which means looking out for signs of illness in your kissing partner – consider asking if they have a history of getting cold sores, if that can be done inoffensively – and then using common sense.

If you’re wanting to passionately kiss someone who’s ill, you’ll likely catch it too. Or they could be an asymptomatic carrier unbeknownst to them, like a recent ex who I suspect was a carrier of the Streptococcus bacteria, as over our two-year relationship, I regularly caught tonsillitis after a date with him.

Some definite no-no’s include kissing someone with an active cold sore, warts or mouth ulcers. Maintaining good oral hygiene is essential.

Lest we all become terrified of the potential effect of COVID-19 on our dating and social lives, best remember that the standard, ‘seasonal influenza’ has reached 29 million cases, with related deaths numbering 16,000 in America alone.

“While the numbers may seem incredibly high, they are not out of the ordinary. The CDC reports that the hospitalization rate is similar to that of recent seasons, and overall deaths related to flu have been low.”

I’d love to know your thoughts on whether COVID-19 has affected or is likely to affect your dating life!


PS – Keeping it light and if you get a chance to watch the hilarious ‘sex in hazmat suits’ video meme, take it!

Since I wrote this post there have been so many posts around the world exploring this strange and uncertain time. Here are a just few that have crossed my path:


Dickpics 101

Dickpics were certainly not part of my everyday life until I joined the online dating world. Yes, hard to believe I know!

Initially I was told that by a dear friend (who’s been in a relationship since forever) that guys who like to photograph and send pics of their genitalia must be somehow morally deficient or unhinged. Though this couch analysis did not sit comfortably with me, I accepted that some guys on dating sites were a little ‘out there’ and maybe a little too eager to get their gear off. (And to photograph their tackle and distribute it randomly).

I soon came to see it as commonplace and absolutely normal. By this, I mean ‘normal’ as defined by the context of this new world where many behaviours once considered abhorrent or borderline are now everyday.

Women have come to expect these behaviours and though we might bemoan that (and women have every right to object), women also contribute by photographing elements of their nakedness and using these images for titillation or connection. I don’t think it’s very helpful to judge, but I think it is useful to explore the behaviour and ponder some motivations.


“If you ever send me another pic of your dick I’ll give every goon I know your address and tell them you have 2 bikes and always carry cash. I’ll call your job and get the email of whatever woman is directly superior to you and I’ll forward your dick to her. I’ll print your dick on business cards with all your contact info and leave them in men’s restrooms. Just send one more pic and I’ll end you.”

Amanda Chatel asked nine men who admit to sending dick pics why they do it. The answers vary from pride, hoping for a compliment, hoping for some breasts or nakedness in return, thinking it would be an honour for her (seriously?), because he was asked for it, because he’s a guy and thought his dick would change the bad rep dicks have as visual objects of appeal, and because he assumed it would be erotic. (Amanda Chatel ‘9 Brave Guys Reveal the Reasons Why They Send Dick Pics’ accessed 23 July 2017)

One guy was quoted as saying, “Now, as an older, rational man, I frown upon unsolicited dick pics because it’s just wrong, even if the only reason most men do it is because they hope you’ll show your tits in return. All that said, if a woman asks, it’s a request that should be fulfilled immediately because more often than not, it’s a test.” (A test of what, I wonder?)

David Ley explores from a psychologist’s point of view, what might be behind the modern-day phenomenon. “Men love the idea of receiving such pictures from strangers, and they assume women do too,” he says. “Men notoriously misperceive women’s sexual interest in them and project their own sexual interests and desires onto women. In this situation, men really are hoping and thinking that she’ll be turned on and send them a pic in response….Psychological research demonstrates that in anonymous environments, people, both men and women, engage in fairly casual sexual behaviors, including exhibitionism.” (David J Ley ‘This is why men send pics of their junk’ The Good Men Project February 2016)

Yes, I’ve noticed that too – and I myself would not expose my breasts in a public setting, and yet I might do so when requested online (if I like the guy). Partly, it’s about control and the importance of having agency. Ley goes on to say, “But, for some reason, whether biology, psychology or social suppression of female sexuality, women don’t enjoy this the way men do… One issue is that men just aren’t good at hearing or responding to, ‘No, we DON’T want to see that!’”

Dick Shaming

In Bustle online magazine, Suzannah Weiss says that the shaming of the dick pic has now gone too far. “The dick pic has come to represent the epitome of unethical behavior in texting and online interactions,” she says. “…This increased awareness could serve as an important jumping-off point to discuss why consent matters, not just in our face-to-face interactions, but also in our electronic communications, regardless of what body parts we possess.” (Suzannah Weiss ‘Why Dick Shaming Has Gone Too Far’ 11 Nov 2015)

While commenting on the viciousness with which women can publicly respond to videos or social media forums, Weiss also makes a valid point about treating others as you would wish to be treated. “Would we be OK with people openly criticizing the size, shape, color, or age of our vulvas? Men are already extremely critical of their penises, with more than half believing they are below average size. I’d imagine that hearing people shamed for the appearance of their penises would only make matters worse.”

Fair point, I think, if the photo in question was requested. But if it wasn’t?

I’m still not sure if the dick pic should be taken as a compliment, or whether I should be viewing it through a feminist or cultural analysis lens, but I have to admit now that I find it amusing and rather interesting.

The sheer variety of shapes, lengths, girths, sizes, colours and textures of penises is fascinating. I’ve learned a lot about the male member during this year or two – after all, when you’ve been in a monogamous arrangement for most of your life, you generally haven’t seen that many.

I do, however, agree with David Ley: “Beyond everything else, it’s just plain dumb. I actually agree with the feminist point of view on this. Maybe not sexual assault, but as much a sexual offense as exposing one’s self on the street to a busload of nuns. If he did it on the street, he’d be charged. On the internet, no? … think it is like everything else on the internet. People do it because they can get away with it…” Spot on!

But At Least Now I Know What I Like And What I Don’t Like

It’s taken a lot of penises to get to this point, and initially I didn’t like to look too closely as I found it somewhat disconcerting. If I’m really honest – though it might make me sound like a prude – I found it a tad embarrassing. It took a fair few images being thrust into my face before I became immune to the shock value and began develop my own dick aesthetic. I’ll never belong to the apparently sizeable group of women online who collect dickpics. I deleted my modest collection of a dozen or so not that long ago on the grounds that I’d lost interest in the guys to which these members belonged, and it was potentially uncomfortable to have them stored (concealed) on my phone.

On my journey I’ve discovered that some penises really do nothing for me, in fact I might even go as far as to say that unless I like the man, his dick won’t interest me. However, once I am firmly besotted with the man, intimate photos can be a real turn on. The qualifier here is ‘can be’ and this is because timing is everything.

If a total stranger online flashes you his dick, then that’s just rude. I used to see it as crass beyond measure. Because of the lack of immediate physical threat and the potential for attack such as rape, it’s clearly not the same as a ‘real life’ flasher. There is a similarity, however, that is uncomfortable and potentially disempowering for the viewee, especially if she has not been consulted before sending the image.

Most guys don’t consult, but over time as a deeper ‘relationship’ develops with chatting partners, many guys will ask first and if they don’t (and I like them) I will gently chastise them that it’s polite to ask a lady first before hitting ‘send’. After all, we can’t ‘unsee’ the image – and it may not leave a good impression!

Suzannah Weiss gets to the nub of the matter: “Plenty of people have solicited dick pics and plenty have sent them upon request. Yet a lot of writing about this issue hasn’t acknowledged that, possibly out of fear that admitting some people like dick pics would somehow mitigate the harm of sending unsolicited ones. We’ve conflated dick pics with the circumstances under which people sometimes send them. But those are two entirely separate issues, and we need to do a better job keeping these issues – dick pics and lack of consent – separate because one is a problem and one is not.”

But What Was It Like, That First Time, I Hear You Wonder?

That first time I saw a photo of someone’s erect penis flash onto my phone, with no warning or polite accompanying request (“care to see my dick?”).

It was on Skout, an app where inane banter and unwelcome dickpics are the norm. The first one or two were noteworthy because it was all new and a little surprising. I’d delete the thread and block the guy instantly.

I do remember one guy though; lonely, horny and equipped with the largest penis I have ever seen. It is no exaggeration to say that it was the length and width of my forearm. All I could do was stare in shock and wince.

I should add that rather than on actual dating sites, most sharing of genital images happens on chat apps such as kik, what’s app, viber, or snapchat. Moving to these apps is sometimes seen as an invitation to share explicit images and usually I let someone know that, by agreeing to move to a chat app, I am not giving them permission to do this. Those are my personal boundaries and you will have your own.

There is a sliding scale of acceptance of the dickpic, and the more I was exposed to them – even if it wasn’t every guy or every interaction – the more the behaviour was normalised. Indeed young women are very familiar with the sharing of images of the male member, if media reporting on sexting and mobile phone use among teens is anything to go by.

But although I’m talking about dickpics here, it’s worth mentioning that women don’t seem too shy about sending naked images either. One in five Australians singles are reported to have sent or received sexy photos, one in 10 of whom is over the age of 45 and 36% of singles say they’ve sent a sext, regardless of their age; 51% have received one. (Elyse Romano, ‘How Singles Use Technology in Dating’ 19 March 2013 and ‘Digital Love in Australia’ 17 January 2013)

Boobiepics (or even pussy pics!) are the female equivalent, and yet I’ve never yet heard a man complain about receiving these! In fact, I recently met up with a guy I’d been chatting to online and he mentioned that he’d been sent several uninvited boobiepics. With my researcher’s cap on, I asked if he minded. He grinned and said, “of course not”.

Maybe the essential difference is actually about men being largely visual creatures, whereas women are often turned on by words, behaviour and courtship, or physical presence, rather than just an image. This may all be a gross generalisation.

In order to fully examine this behaviour, we’d need to consider factors such as the societal gender power imbalances and attitudes that women’s bodies are for public consumption and that the male gaze has every right to linger on the physical attributes of any woman.

Again, Susannah Weiss makes a good point when she says, “With texting, Snapchat, and other technologies that make the sharing of images and words ubiquitous and possible with near-strangers, we need to talk about forms of harassment that can occur when two people aren’t even in the same room. This includes sexual language as well as images, and it counts whether that image is a picture of genitals or a shirtless selfie, and whether the subject of the photo is male or female.”

Consent is Everything

I’m not putting up my hand for any more research on the fractious topic of dick pics because for better or for worse, I’m immune to the dickpic, although I still consider it a basic courtesy for the guy to ask permission first.

I’ve said no a few times, but some guys are incredibly persistent (“But do you really want to see? Do you? I know you really want to see it!”). Short of saying “No, seeing your dick does not arouse me and make me want to bonk you instantly,” there seems to be little that would dissuade a determined sender.

This in itself is a significant point – the sending is for the benefit of the sender. The receiver’s reaction is largely unimportant. It is the very act of sharing such an intimate image – regardless of the viewer’s feelings about it – that turns on so many men.

Back to David Ley: “It’s probable that at least some of these men receive a sexual thrill at the idea of an unknown woman seeing their genitalia. It may be an aspect of exhibitionism, and some of these men probably masturbate as a part of the act, imagining that woman seeing the picture they sent. The fact that a woman rejects them for it is not salient, because for many such men, it is the woman’s disgust and rejection which is actually part of the turn-on.”

As I suspected all along! Suzannah Weiss agrees. “Some people send dick pics for their own pleasure without concern for what their partners want, and that’s not cool…But we shouldn’t condemn an entire activity just because some people do it without consent. Dick pics can be a lot of fun. I find it incredibly empowering to be the one lustfully gazing at someone else in a culture where women are stereotypically the ones looked at.” (Suzannah Weiss ‘I’m a feminist and I love a good dick pic’ 30 September 2015)

Best to beware of the dickpic if you are venturing online. Be warned and draw your own conclusions!

PS Here’s a new article about the rise of the dickpic The Growing World of Anonymous Dickpic Appreciation Sites