The idea of social distancing, sheltering in place and even the more medical, nightmarish sounding “quarantine” might seem like business as usual — even a relief — for those tortured by social anxiety. For extroverts, however, the same ideas evoke the lonesome grief of solitary confinement.
Some are so dependent on the protective cocooning of company and the communion in shared experiences, that they can’t even fathom going to lunch on their own; for a select few, the thought of having sex with just one other person is still too lonely.
Group sex enthusiasts see beauty in numbers. “Lifestyle” members frequently seek out other players to participate in polyamory or to swap partners or partake in orgies. Even they are observing a strict social distance.
Mark* (some names have been changed) is the former owner of a swinger’s club who now organizes monthly private parties, usually attended by 20 to 30 couples. He says that while some guests were still hoping that the coronavirus wouldn’t derail their plans, he postponed this month’s parties after ordinances were set in place.
“Surprisingly, people were still wanting to come,” Mark says. “But it's not worth the risk of someone getting something. There's no 'six-foot rule' at swinger parties.”
Mark says that these gatherings usually start out “as a regular party, but usually morph into an orgy sort of thing.” The guest list is eclectic, ranging in race, background and political affiliations. Mark says that every party and other organized forms of polyamory events listed in a well-known swinger’s forum have all been canceled.
A young woman named Sophia, who says she is “poly with two boyfriends, but we also have occasional outside partners,” says that she can see only one of her partners during the quarantine. One of them works at a pharmacy, she explains, and her son's grandparents (whom he sees regularly) are high risk, so she doesn’t want to take any chances.
Sophia says that she’d been “poly” for many years, even when she was previously married, but only began dating her second partner about a month ago. She’s also a part-time dominatrix and says she stopped taking clients to protect them and other high-risk people from contagion.
She says she’s not surprised that swingers and polyamorous people are taking extra precautions, as it’s second-nature to a group used to proceeding with safety.
“Most poly people I know have locked down more than anyone else, because we understand how many people's health are influenced by our behavior,” Sophia says. “If we wouldn't risk passing an STI to partners, giving them a potentially deadly virus that a condom can't protect against should be out of the question.”
Another young mother named Ellé says that for the time being, she isn’t going to any events or hosting any couples.
“It’s extremely boring,” she jokes.
Ellé says she's being “extra cautious,” because she has an autoimmune condition and a son with asthma.
Normally, she attends house parties and clubs once a month, and has two or three guests over a few times a month.
The groups at house parties or clubs are usually large, she says.
“The other times, we like to meet up with people we have somewhat of a friendship with, usually,” she says. “My husband is more into the voyeur aspect of things, so while we do partner swap, often the times we have a few over, he’s watching and I’m playing.”
Ellé says that most of the community is staying put for the time being.
“There are a few that aren’t, but in general everyone’s a little concerned at the moment," she says. "I think in a few weeks once everyone has time to feel confident they aren’t sick, we’ll likely ease back into things.”
While concerns over the spread of COVID-19 are changing hookup culture, if any community can adapt to the new coronavirus normal, it’s the swinger community.
“Swingers have always operated in what I’d call a speakeasy/Prohibition Era mindset as it is,” Ellé says. “What we enjoy is so far from the standard for most folks, that we’re generally quiet about it.
"In all honesty, I think that model will benefit us in the weeks/months to come. We’re used to small gatherings, practicing safety precautions and being socially aware.”
Swinging may be on a … downswing ... at the moment, but when business reopens Ellé says a good way to get into the scene is by visiting clubs.
“Clubs are definitely one of the starting places, especially for folks really new to the lifestyle,” she says. “There’s no pressure in a club to join — not that anyone would ever pressure someone at a house party. ... Clubs are large with a lot of people, so it’s easy to blend in and just watch.”
There’s also an online forum, called SDC (Swingers Date Club), Ellé says, where swingers connect, help vet each other and post information on house parties and events.
“It allows you to get to know people local to you, and also allows for some screening,” she says. “You can find anything from a partner swap-style house party, to a group of guys solely dedicated to coming over for a gang bang.”
At the moment, Ellé hasn’t seen anyone hosting any meetups except for “speed date posts,” which she explains as hookups that follow a similar model to Tinder’s, except they usually involve a couple and a third person.
“A speed date post is when someone posts that they’re looking to meet up in the next day or two,” Ellé says. “Kind of a ‘last-minute’ option when you decide on a spur of the moment hookup. I have seen a number of planned parties cancel, however.”
If polyamorous folks can cancel their really, really exciting plans in the name of social distancing, then surely you can cancel your lame barbecue, Karen.