Couples who are used to meet-up twice in a day—before going to work and after returning home—now have to tolerate each other for a much longer duration. There is no turning away from this constant and prolonged cohabitation. Presumably some are loving it (or so do they say); and most are developing or discovering new grounds of incompatibility. The equation has altered due to the abrupt confluence of home-work, work-from-home and household-load-sharing. Now one has to ‘make-it-work’ in a different manner altogether, and work hard on it, as well. New recipes of conjugality and cohabitation have to be tried out. Different permutations have to be explored. Is the monotony of the married life—more evident than ever before? Has it multiplied manifold? Possibly, because this perpetual staying-at-home was not a part of the cohabitation deal. And there has not been any stage-rehearsal of this continual lived-experience earlier.
Lovers who are away from each other cannot meet. Is the distance making the heart grow fonder, or making a barrier which was uncalled for? Only time can tell. What if corona struck us a couple of decades ago—in the era of unsmart phones, when the internet was confined to dingy cyber cubicles? Devoid of screen-mediated regimes of sociality and connectedness, devoid of WhatsApp, Instagram, Facebook, net-streaming and virtual relatedness—‘social-distancing’ would have acquired a different meaning altogether. Maybe, readers would have read more books instead of constantly checking updates on their phones. Maybe, writers would have written more letters and poems instead of ranting four-liners on Facebook—and desperately waiting for a few likes. Maybe, image-makers would have invested in Vilém Flusser’s Philosophy of Photography instead of applying readymade filters to gloss-out work-out-selfies from home. Maybe, thinkers would have thought more rigorously about a post-Covid world instead of thinking about the next power point presentation over a con-call.
Online match-makers or hook-up frenzy people are definitely having a terrible time. Unlike lovers, there is absolutely no ambiguity regarding their state of mind. And their state of multiple affairs is in ruins. Bumble has stumbled on Covid while releasing the untapped sexual energies of the restless urban youth. A Tinder-maniac was in total disarray over the phone that day, “man…so many matches, but what to do?” (Sounded so much like: water, water everywhere, not a drop to drink.) Customary right swipes are not leading to anticipated meet-ups. And a lot happening over a coffee or a drink—is now a borderline nightmare. The unbearable lightness of sex is now burdened with the terror of touch and its viral consequences. The flight of ‘no-strings’, the flow of ‘fuck-buddies’, and availability of ‘friends with advantages’ have been grounded like those helpless aircraft. Promiscuity and its execution has crashed like most other consumer cravings. Profiles on dating apps are as useless, and they are as transaction-unworthy as the visible products on Amazon—that can be seen, but they cannot be ordered or delivered.
Not just the future of capitalism looks jeopardised, so does the prospect of casual sex. Just when the app-mediated multiple-choice options of momentary pleasure were beginning to gather more bees around the Bumble—the plasticity of sex turned rigid and frigid. Sexual access and excess have crashed like the economy and its exports. What was abundant is now short of supply. Flexibility of preferences, followed by a quick planning towards carnal gratification with an alien partner—will be suspended for some time. Even after social normalcy is restored, if at all, or whenever—sleeping with a stranger would not be so easy. The stranger’s body capable of loosening the knob of desire, is now fraught with massivedanger. Fast-forwarding to the promiscuous thrill of sensual and consensual touch would not be so uncomplicated, as earlier.
Touch has lost its unhesitant character. The short-lived, sensation-seeking swirl of lust is going to be lukewarm in the new paradigm of post-Covid-touching. We will fear intimacy. Doubt, scepticism and distance will play on our minds before the foreplay begins. We would require more than a condom for protection. We would need an app that could announce our corona-free physical-status-update. Digital surveillance has to get past our skin and enter our bodies and reveal something more honest and more crave-worthy than nudity. We can continue to meet in the virtual space, or exchange likes and keep sexting. But the longing and the thrill of touching an unexplored body will have to be on hold for long. The excitement of the new has to wait. The virus has injured recreational sex, and made it sinful again. The unfamiliar body is now an object of fear, and not an object of consumable pleasure. A sure-shot surplus has been turned to a lack, overnight.
Other than tangible and measurable damages, the virus has physically separated social beings by imposing a fear of getting contaminated invisibly and unknowingly. Living bodies are suspicious of other living bodies. Bodies are apprehensive about bodily movements, bodily gestures, bodily fluids and bodily presence. Body is more distant, more private and more separated from each other than ever before. Touching is no longer as casual as it used to be; rather, it is a cause of casualty. The virus has evicted bodies from the community space and curbed us in isolation. Distance is an obstacle for getting in touch. Staying apart is not an option but an obligation. The Covid-life is fundamentally asocial. It disrupts a range of adventurous sexual choices.
When a gap of six feet is desirably ‘safe’ and sufficiently ‘distant’—jumping into the bed with a stranger is definitely a threatening thought. So, mind the gap, and come to terms with the fact that in-person dating is going to be dangerous for a while, even after the lockdown is lifted. Whether or not Covid is sexually transmissible is irrelevant—when the virus is contagious enough to spread through invisible respiratory droplets and surface transmission. You are your safest sexual partner. Non-contact is the only way out. Sexual wandering is no longer the answer for boredom, chase, or temporal excitement. Welcome celibacy, enjoy self-pleasure, go virtual, or get laid with the monotony of monogamy—whichever suits you better.
Keeping safe distance from each other—will we discover newer ways of sexcitement? Will pleasure find its own new path of fulfilment? Or will it change the way we conceive sex and conduct ourselves sexually? Or will this unwilling abstinence lead to newer deviances? Is this The-End of the app-induced permissive sociality?
Who knows? Only time can tell. And these are certainly not sexy times.