Intimacy expert reveals how our love lives have changed since pandemic

Is promiscuity going out of fashion? Intimacy expert reveals couples had LESS sex during the pandemic – but some used ‘opportunity’ of being ‘locked up’ with spouses to ‘share fantasies’ and ‘try new positions’

  • Dr Justin Garcia, 37, is the director of the Kinsey Institute at Indiana University
  • He discussed how our love lives have changed in an interview with the Times
  • According to the evolutionary biologist, promiscuity is ‘going out of fashion’
  • Said people are ‘dating with intention’ now, waiting until after third date for sex 

Promiscuity is ‘out of fashion’, according to a leading sex expert, who says that our love lives have changed dramatically since the Covid pandemic, with couples having less sex but more variety, and singletons seeking relationships over one night stands.

Dr Justin Garcia, 37, is the director of the Kinsey Institute at Indiana University, a research organisation devoted to the study of human sexuality, founded in 1947 by biologist Dr Alfred Kinsey.

Speaking to The Times, Dr Garcia discussed recent research which shows how the intentions of daters have changed in recent years, as well as opening up about his job.

The organisation’s youngest ever leader, the evolutionary biologist took up the role in 2019. Since then, he says that people find out what he does for a living, they ‘often tell me things. Very intimate things’.

As well as learning from these anecdotal stories, Dr Garcia leads a team of academics who publish some 100 articles annually on topics around intimacy, sex and relationships.

The pandemic has changed the way couples and singletons view sex, according to intimacy researchers – but not in the way many predicted (stock image)

One of the most interesting theories to emerge from the institute’s work is the idea that ‘promiscuity is out of fashion’, and while this is based on data from the US, Dr Garcia said ‘I think it’s happening globally’.

Data from the institute’s 11th annual report, Singles in America, which quizzes 5,000 Americans every year on their intimate lives, shows that two out of three singletons now prefer to wait until after the third date to have sex.

In addition, some 81 per cent of men quizzed said they see sex as less important now than they did before the pandemic.

According to the research, only 11 per cent of singletons say they want to date casually, while 62 per cent say they are more interested in finding a meaningful, committed relationship.

The report says: ‘We’re not saying one-night-stands are gone for good, but they’re definitely on the decline. And social distancing isn’t the only explanation. 

Dr Justin Garcia (pictured) is an evolutionary biologist, and the director of the Kinsey Institute, which publishes research on sex and relationships

Who was Alfred Kinsey? The pioneering sexpert who founded the Kinsey Institute

Alfred Kinsey is generally regarded as the father of ‘sexology’ – and established the Institute for Sex Research at Indiana University in 1947. 

Now known as the Kinsey Institute, it boasts a team of anthropologists, biologists, sociologists and psychologists, who conduct research into relationships and sex.

Alfred Kinsey was born in 1894 in Hoboken, New Jersey. At a young age, he showed a great interest in nature and camping and would go on to join the Boy Scouts.

His parents, both devout Christians, fully supported him in this as the scouting movement embraced their principles.

Kinsey’s interest in the natural world would see him arrive at Indiana University in 1920, one year after receiving his PhD in biology from Harvard University. 

Alfred Kinsey (pictured) is generally regarded as the father of ‘sexology’ – and established the Institute for Sex Research at Indiana University in 1947

After 20 years in this field of entomology, he began teaching ‘Marriage and Family’ –  a course for senior and married students. 

It was during this time that his study into the subject of sex increased and he began collecting sex histories to reinforce his research.

Within three years, Kinsey had accumulated around 2,000 sex histories and earned a $1,600 grant from the National Research Council’s Committee for Research on the Problems of Sex. By 1947, the committee had funded the Kinsey team with a $40,000 grant. 

His fascination with human sex life would lead to the publication of two reports – Sexual Behaviour in the Human Male (1948) and Sexual Behaviour in the Human Female (1953). These were known as the ‘Kinsey Reports’.

Drawing on 18,500 personal interviews, they encompassed a wide variation in sexual behaviour.

Although his analysis was carefully conducted, the studies were heavily criticised due to irregularities in the sampling and the unreliability of personal communication.

Among his findings were that 10 per cent of US men were gay. 

Dr Kinsey passed away unexpectedly at age 62 on August 25, 1956. Earlier that year, he gave an interview to NBC News and interviewed his last two subjects. 

He personally took 7,985 of the approximately 18,000 sex histories gathered by the research team. 

In 2004, a film, Kinsey, chronicling his life, was released starring Liam Neeson. 

Above, Liam Neeson as Alfred Kinsey in the 2004 biopic, Kinsey

‘The pandemic has initiated an appetite for more meaningful, steadfast and long-term relationships. 

‘And to the shock of many, young singles are embracing this trend the most…So how might this impact society moving forward? Only time will tell. But it’s possible that this desire for more commitment could lead to future generations growing up with more family stability.’

He also noted that people are dating with more ‘intention’, in other words, having a dating goal, and being clear about it, for example, wanting to be in a relationshipcertain timeframe. 

Meanwhile, those in committed relationships have also seen changes in their intimate life, according to Dr Garcia. 

In a study published in 2020, he found that rather than people in relationships having more sex during the pandemic as predicted, frequency actually dipped by 43 per cent.

As an evolutionary biologist, Dr Garcia concluded that ‘our physiology was in a bit of a threat response, which is not conducive to mating’.

However, while frequency dipped, there were some positives to come out of the findings, with almost half (49 per cent) saying they had tried out a new sexual position.

Additionally, 41 per cent revealed they had shared sexual fantasies with their partner, although only 27 per cent then acted on them.

Dr Garcia told the Times: ‘All of us thought, “Wow, in some ways this is really an indictment on how we talk about sex,” that it took being locked up for people who had, in some cases, been together for decades, to say to their partner, “Is there anything you’ve ever wanted to try?”.

‘The pandemic forced all of us to slow down and focus on the people we were most connected to, and nourish those connections.’

In other words, as people sought to weather the storm of the pandemic, and subsequent economic problems, they looked for meaningful connections rather than one-night stands. 

Researchers found that people are more likely to use these emerging technologies if they suffer from anxiety or depression, and that using sex tech may help individuals with impaired mental health experience temporary relief from their psychological distress.

The study of 8,004 US adults found that while this trend held true for men of all sexual orientations, depression was not significantly associated with sex tech use in bisexual and lesbian women, while anxiety was not linked to sex tech use among heterosexual women. 

 Additionally, the researchers found that people who felt lonely were less likely, not more, to engage with sex tech.

Speaking when the research was released, Kinsey Institute social psychologist Amanda Gesselman said it is a common misconception that people only turn to the Internet for romantic or sexual connections if they are incapable of face-to-face relationships.

‘Our results provide evidence to the contrary, suggesting that online sexual spaces aren’t functioning as “last resorts” for people who haven’t been able to form sexual relationships in real life,” she explained.

‘Instead, it’s likely that many users in these spaces do have social support and adequate social networks, but they’re turning to online sexual technologies for a unique boost to their psychological mindset.’

While these findings no doubt offer opportunities and support for couples working through relationship issues, the field of sex research often isn’t taken seriously, according to Dr Garcia.

But it is important, he stresses, as sexual issues are the predominant predictor that a couple will divorce.

‘So if we want to keep marriages together, let’s do work on sex and couples,’ he said. 

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