Welcome to Love Lockdown: a weekly column about how people are navigating romantic relationships in the time of coronavirus.
The doorbell doesn’t ring, instead he texts to say he’s outside. I pad down the stairs and click open the door. "Hey," he whispers, tucking a strand of hair behind my ear. I lead him upstairs, praying my neighbours aren’t planning a late-night stroll. It turns out that having to be quiet is extremely hot and as I close the door to my flat, I push him up against it; he stifles a moan. I’ve always wanted an illicit love affair and now I’ve got one.
It started innocently enough. After matching on Tinder, (let’s call him) Sam and I exchanged a handful of DMs before deciding to go on a socially distanced walk.
When the evening of our walk rolled around, the heavens opened and it pissed it down. We ran back to mine, one thing led to another and we ended up having sex.
At this point in lockdown I was, for want of a better word, in a bit of a mess. I had been dumped by my boyfriend, lost my job and left home alone by my flatmates. By the time we hooked up, Sam was the only person I’d seen for weeks; he remains the only person I’ve touched in three months. After the rest of my life spontaneously combusted, Sam seemed like a calculated risk.
While what we are doing is now allowed (I think), calculating this risk has been both important to us and a distinctly unsexy process. If Sam or I even touches another person, we have to tell each other – a level of transparency you’d hardly expect from a serious partner, let alone a casual one. Every visit to one another begins with a lengthy cleansing ritual.
With lockdown only semi-policeable and the rules increasingly confusing, shame and guilt have weighed heavily on us both. And while I know countless people who have also had sex under lockdown without taking the same precautions, I still feel terrible.
That said, my guilt about seeing Sam was somewhat assuaged when, a few weeks ago, the Dutch National Institute for Public Health and the Environment (RIVM) began advising Dutch singles to get a seksbuddy. "It makes sense," the institute explained, "that as a single [person] you also want to have physical contact" during lockdown. Its advice for single citizens was to choose one other person with whom to have "physical contact", on the condition that neither you nor they display coronavirus symptoms. "Sex with yourself or with others at a distance is possible," it added.
The Netherlands is not the UK – for one thing, their lockdown is "intelligent", ours a clusterfuck – but the principle is universal. The RIVM issued its guidance in response to pressure from people like Linda Duits, the Dutch journalist who wrote recently that touch is "not a luxury" but a "basic need".
The thing is, abstinence itself can also be unhealthy. After food, sleep and oxygen, touch is maybe the most essential element in human life. It’s been shown to calm the nervous system, boost your immunity and prevent heart disease – all things you’d reckon would reduce your risk of, say, severe acute respiratory syndrome. Sex buddies have a place in the public health response to this pandemic.
My own has had manifold physical and mental health benefits. I’d like to say it’s the sex that’s blown my mind the most but if I’m honest, it’s the hugs. On days when the bad news stream swells to a torrent, when I fear that baking sourdough and being on Twitter might be the only two things I will ever do again, it’s really, really good to be held.
Now that we're in that weird, half-lockdown, half-'you-can-have-one-person-to-stay-over-and-you-can-go-to-a-garden-centre-but-not-hug-your-mum' place I'm starting to think about what happens next with Sam. In normal times (remember those?) I’d want to keep things low-key but the pandemic has made that much harder. Like it or not, we're in what looks, swims and quacks like a committed relationship – or at the very least, a support bubble. We’re bound together by circumstance – and I have started to wonder how, when lockdown loosens further, we’ll begin to untangle.