A year of lockdown meant little to no intimacy with another human being outside of the home for, let’s see, at least 15 months. For many, the approaching summer seduces them to throw their masks and fear of infection to the wind. And, as discarded masks float away, a new pick-up line is heard, “are you vaccinated?”
Needless to say, CoVid’s impact upon sexual interaction mirrored the scale of the disease. As the pandemic spread, hospitals overflowed, and fatalities mounted. Caution and isolation were the logical responses. But, healthcare professionals find, “fear of contagion and death will depress libido for only so long.” Even as the disease threatens a comeback, long awaited hookups are on the rise.
Unfortunately, hookups are not the only thing on the rise. The CDC reports that STI rates are up everywhere and for everyone regardless of race and gender. Though increases define every age, “Over half of new cases in the current report occurred among 15-to-24-year-olds.” Currently, the U.S has the highest rates of sexually transmitted infection among all developed nations.
2019 was a record breaking year with at least 26 million new STI cases. Ironically, while CoVid infections shot up, the quarantine offered relief from sexually transmitted ones. Widespread social distancing meant virtual relationships replaced physical ones. Masturbation pushed hook ups to the back burner and porn became the new tryst on the side.
The closure of sexual health clinics was a hidden impact of the pandemic. Given the scope of the CoVid crisis, clinic staffs found themselves re-assigned to assist the tens of thousands of Americans plagued by the virus. As a result, screenings, tracing, follow-up visits and necessary treatments simply ended.
Spring break parties in popular resort locations provided a glimpse of what lies ahead. Throngs of partiers tossed caution aside and both STI’s and CoVid flourished.
Origin of Hot Vax Summer
As President Biden announced and exceeded his bold vision for a fully vaccinated country, an emboldened vaxxed population readied for summer. And, Insider magazine soon coined the phrase—Hot Vax Summer. America, especially its youth, was more than ready to get down and dirty, once again.
Anticipation for a return to a familiar, and fully indulgent, ‘normal’ resulted in a huge demand for July 4th rental parties. In response, Airbnb imposed new restrictions beginning with “no parties” and “no unregistered guests allowed.” Their “tough new rules” are intended to put “public health first” and help prevent unauthorized gatherings like those that arose during Spring Break.
“We’ve learned that July 4 is being pegged as the ‘reopening’ date in the US, which is great for the country as well as for the Airbnb community,” the company announced. “We also know that public health and safety experts are still saying mass gatherings should not happen. That’s why we’re introducing new rules.”
For some, getting out into the dating world is like learning to ride a bike again. They know what worked in the past but feel a little wobbly going forward.
Dating apps are seeing a new introductory exchange: have you had both shots? Ironically, concerns to not spread CoVid do not extend to STI’s.
In many respects, Hot Vax Summer is a perfect storm for a different kind of epidemic.
For instance, one spring break partier, commenting on what she missed most, said, “everything, even the worse parts. Things like drinking too much, waking up with a hangover and a stranger in my bed.”
A young gay man expressed similar sentiments. Hot vax summer means “going back to carefree sexual encounters…kissing someone—anyone…” Most of all he wants to return to a happier time, “without bounds, pressure or judgment.”
For many, isolation meant decreased sexual desire. After the second wave, they could only watch so much porn and masturbate so many times. Unable to actually touch another person, some are desperate to indulge in pleasures of the flesh.
Problem of Sex Education
The age group most likely to wildly indulge their sexual appetites is the same age group that is responsible for the highest spike in STI’s. Not surprisingly, it’s the same group that receives the least amount of comprehensive sex education—young people under 25.
Right wing supported “abstinence only”programs dominate sexual health education curricula and have so since the Reagan days. A truckload of research documents that the program, used in a majority of states, is a disaster. Coupled with CoVid’s similarly disastrous impact upon sexual health clinics, vax summer calls for a caution that many don’t want to heed.
A 2021 study focused on sexual behaviors of individuals between the ages of 14 to 24. It found that for “those in the 18-24-year-old age group, pornography was the most commonly endorsed helpful source of information about sex.” Porn ranked higher than “other possible options such as sexual partners, friends, media, and health care professionals.” And, as mentioned above, porn viewing skyrocketed during the past year.
So, ignorance combined with rampant sexual desire amidst a sexual health care crisis, doesn’t promise a positive outcome.
A Cautious Approach
While some want to dive headfirst into the sexual pool, others are not so willing to take the plunge. Rachel Wright, a New York based therapist, says, “We all stopped seeing friends and family members and transitioning back into flirting, dating or fucking is hard after what we’ve collectively been through.”
For those who are less willing to leap right back in, Wright offers helpful advice. Acknowledge that a return to a new ‘normal’ has its challenges. “Our bodies and brains may even send signals that something is wrong (creating feelings of anxiety) because of how new it will feel.”
So, despite the temptation to throw caution and masks to the wind, take time to listen to what feels right. Start with situations that feel comfortable. “Take baby steps and talk your way through it.” As simplistic as that may sound, its impact can be profound.
And remember, we are living through an historic worldwide pandemic. Many have lost a lot, from loved ones, to relationships, to jobs and to homes. It takes time to heal from collective extended trauma.
And it’s Not Yet Over
Though more under control, the pandemic is not over. It is not time to lose all caution. Some states are closing restaurants, again and no Burning Man, again. Even though the CDC is easing its mask guidelines, it is not time to throw masks or common sense aside.
Nor is it time to leave prophylactics at home.
Hot vax summer offers a long awaited opportunity to embrace what we miss and who we miss. Go for it. Just don’t lose your mind in the process, please.
Sources available upon request