Spring into Dating — Safely
As we emerge from winter hibernation and two years of periodic lockdowns, we're faced with a whole new world of dating and sex in a not-quite-post-COVID world. Some of us have been dating all along, some of us are newly single and others are ready to re-embark on the dating scene after a hiatus. Many folks are experiencing FODA – Fear Of Dating Again. If it has been a while since you have been in the dating game, you may be afraid of how the process and people have changed, whether your social skills are still up to par, what people are looking for, or whether you will find someone to connect with. These are all common fears and here are some tips to help you get back into the game.
Be yourself: When meeting people online or in person, be yourself. There is no point in someone falling for the person you are not. Trying to keep up that image is exhausting. Showing your true self by being open and honest about your likes, dislikes, feelings, quirks, bottom lines, and boundaries allows the other person to get to know you. Reveal only as much vulnerability as you are able to trust, given the amount of time you have spent together. Challenge inconsistencies in what the other person says, inquire about their weaknesses as well as their strengths, find out how they have responded or would respond in certain situations to get to know them better. Ask about their love language and share yours. Discuss safe sex and what is important to you in a relationship.
Be clear about what you want: Are you looking for long term or casual, are you monogamous or into consensual non-monogamy, do you want kids in your future or not, what do you envision your future looks like? Save yourself a lot of time, energy, and potential heartache wasted on people who are incompatible with your desires.
Keep your privacy: Unfortunately there are boundary-pushers and people who won’t take no for an answer. Don’t reveal where you work or your address until you know someone well (or post photos that reveal those details or where you regularly hang out). Make sure that any sexy or suggestive photos that you would not want a family member or employer to see do not include unique markers such as tattoos, birthmarks, your face, or piercings.
Start with phone and video dates: Getting to know someone from the comfort of your home saves on time. Be clear with them about not taking screenshots and recording, especially if you get flirty or sexy. Talk about consent and boundaries. Tell them about what is important to you in a sexual relationship. For many, these conversations are intense foreplay.
Pay attention to your gut and notice red flags: It can be exciting to have someone interested in you, especially if it has been a long time or if you struggle with low self-esteem. Notice when your body or mind are telling you that something is not quite right. Ask a friend or therapist for a second opinion to help you differentiate between your fears and anxiety of dating in general or something that is not a good fit with this person.
Have the COVID talk: State your beliefs and practices about vaccinations and masking and other protocols. Decide whether this person has practices that feel safe to you in terms of work, eating out and socializing, exercise, or having others in their home. Ask them what a typical day/week is like and when they do or do not mask. You can then determine your level of comfort of spending time with them outdoors or indoors based on your own risk assessment.
When You Are Ready To Meet
Safer dating practices include the following:
- Choose somewhere in public during the day/early evening where there are others around and you can mask/ distance in ways that make you feel comfortable.
- Tell a friend where you are going and whom you are meeting (first and last names and contact information).
- Get yourself there and back. Don’t let your date know where you live on the first few dates and make sure you have the means to get home.
- Minimize drugs and alcohol. Watch your alcohol at all times and consume little if any substances so that you have good judgment.
- Plan a short first date for coffee or walk in the park. If you like the person, you can see if they have time and want to meet for longer. But you don’t want to be stuck on appetizers when you realize that there is no way you want to date this person. If you are on a longer date, have a “gotta go” excuse on hand that allows you to leave. If you feel unsafe, use those around you — others in the park or waitstaff — to help you.
With coronavirus, safer sex needs to address not only STIs but also COVID-19 prevention.
- Make masking sexy. The virus has been determined to be primarily airborne. Masks are the best protection for indoor encounters but can take away some of the excitement of kissing. Enjoy the taboo and erotic tension of not being allowed to kiss. You can get creative with keeping safe using a hood overtop of the mask, or use an eye mask as well so that there is little visual connection, dimming the lights really low or using only a few candles, engaging in pleasure with positions where at least one person is facing away from the other (mutual masturbation, doggy style or reverse on-top intercourse, one-at-a-time pleasure with the other lying face down).
- Talk about safe sex. Get tested (including Pap tests) and ask about your partner’s previous STI tests and safer sex practices. Note that sometimes people have an STI (such as the 66% of the population under 50 who have Herpes Simplex 1) and many do not know it. Many people living with STIs have a healthy, vibrant sex life while taking precautions to protect their partners. Knowledge is power: if you have an STI, know how best to manage it and protect yourself and others.
- Get vaccinated for HPV and hepatitis B. Ask your doctor about taking Prep if you are at risk of contracting HIV.
- Do not douche inside the vagina before or after pleasure (or ever, really). Our bodies know how to clean themselves. Not only does douching not protect against STIs, it can spread an infection deeper into the body, and can damage the mucous membranes, making them more susceptible to infection.
- Have a look on your own and your partner’s genitals, anus and mouth for sores as you get into playing.
- Wear underwear as a physical barrier as things heat up. Use condoms on penises or sex toys going anywhere inside the body (mouth, anus, and vagina) or against the body. Dental dams are effective safe sex barriers for oral pleasure against a vulva and/ or anus. Use gloves for fingers going inside the body —it makes it easier to transition to other activities afterwards by being able to remove the gloves.
- Make sure you get consent for what you are doing. You can use dirty talk to spice it up or ask a partner to let you know when they want you to do something: enthusiastic and active consent ensures you can both relax feeling confident that everyone is choosing the pleasure. Check out this article for more COVID-safe sex tips, especially during hook-ups.
Sex toys are a great way to spice up a relationship as well as your solo sexual practices. Find sex toys in Toronto at Good For Her on Harbord St or online. Ask one of the knowledgeable staff to help you find what is best for you given your unique desires and pleasures.