Virus-wary Australians are switching online to start and maintain relationships – via dating apps, social media and video conferencing.
Leading sexologist Naomi Hutchins said Australians who are looking for love are connecting and talking more before they get physical.
“People are realising that unless they go against the distancing rules, they have to spend a lot more time talking,” she said.
“For the people who are quite happy to have longer dates and maybe aren’t so keen on being sexual quick, this is great for them.”
Men particularly finding that they have to speak to their partners and not just send “dick pics”, Ms Hutchins said. Engaging in intimate activity online involves trust and people should be mindful of identifying themselves in photos and/or videos.
“Be quite clever about it, don’t send any identifying things,” she said.
Both people in the relationship should remember that consent is ongoing and if one person does consent to share an image or video, they are only consenting for the receiver to view this, Ms Hutchins said.
In Victoria you can face up to a maximum of two years in prison for distributing an intimate image of another person to someone else without permission.
Although communication can be uncomfortable, she said it is important to be a good lover and openly communicate by asking your partner how they feel about being intimate online.
“Never ever send that stuff without asking first, it’s not okay,” she said.
Sex therapist-in-training Laura Miano, also a writer and student sexologist, said the idea of being intimate online for couples living in the same city is optional, but she recommends for those in a long-distance relationship.
“Intimacy is a huge factor in a successful relationship, so when you can’t be physically near each other, keeping up the intimacy in any other way you can is paramount,” she said.
“Most people will use online platforms to do that however you might also like to write romantic love letters to each other or try phone sex if you prefer an alternative to e-romance.”
Ms Hutchins said partners should engage in enthusiastic consent where they check in with each other – making it clear that saying no is an option.
“If someone says no to you don’t keep going back because what you are trying to do is get them to say yes.”
As our phones are becoming an extension of our hands it is important to understand online intimacy and consent, Ms Hutchins said.
“This needs to be a part of a comprehensive sex ed program.”
There is still a stigma around online dating apps such as Tinder where some people think the app is just for sex, however there have been many successful stories and long-term relationships formed from the app, she said.
“Clients say that by being on the apps everyone expects sex on the first night, so you need to make that clear first, set your boundaries.”
Ms Hutchins acknowledged that there have been horror stories from dating apps and women especially tend to be more concerned with their safety when meeting men online.
“Usually men don’t have to worry about getting murdered, they are more worried about making a fool of themselves or getting laughed at,” she said.
If you are worried or unsure about progressing in a relationship you’ve started online try and shift to a phone or FaceTime conversation so you can hear the other person’s voice, she said.
Online dating is here to stay so it is important to consider your boundaries when you are dating online. “Think about your boundaries before you use online dating and write it down. Ask yourself, ‘what am I okay with, what would I maybe think about and consider and what is my red line’.
“If you don’t want one-night stands, put it in your bio.”
Ms Hutchins said everyone was dealing with the virus differently, and some are taking the risk to visit partners or have dates. It’s a potentially dangerous option, as the virus can easily be passed on.
Some people are experiencing anticipatory anxiety as they don’t know what is next, some people are finding their libido and desire are low because they are anxious, and others are noticing that the anxiety brings them closer to their partner, she said.
And people can also choose to take a step back from intimacy online. if you don’t feel like engaging in intimate activities, try talking with your partner, having a Netflix watch party, playing a card game online or cooking the same meal together while video calling, Ms Hutchins said.