Cosmopolitan and Esquire collaborated with the prestigious Kinsey Institute on a research study that asked more than 2,000 respondents their thoughts on the future of relationships and sex in America. What does the post-COVID world have in store for relationships? Read on!
MediaVillage talked with Cosmopolitan Editor-in-Chief Jessica Pels, Esquire Editor-in-Chief Michael Sebastian and The Kinsey Institute's Associate Director for Research, Amanda Gesselman, PhD, about what the future has in store and how this will change the face of media.
The study came together organically, when Sebastian (pictured right) discovered during his chats with his male friends that everything was up for discussion -- except their own relationships. That puzzling omission sparked a question about how the pandemic has affected our love lives (or lack thereof). His friendship with his peer Pels led to a larger conversation about the topic, and Cosmo's relationship with The Kinsey Institute allowed them to really go deep.
"I really wanted to find out what's happening in America's bedrooms right now and how that's going to affect us going forward," explains Sebastian. "Cosmo was also planning a sex survey and they were the ones who had the connection to the Kinsey Institute so that felt like a no-brainer for us. It felt like fate!"Though coming together may have been kismet, neither Sebastian nor Pels foresaw the study's results.
"I made two predictions," shares Pels. "I expected a bloodbath of breakups and divorces [due to the stress of the pandemic] and I expected that, after COVID, single people would go absolutely ham."
Neither turned out to be true which, to Pels (pictured below), was the best kind of surprise.
"The results were actually so encouraging!" she says.
Dating Apps and Hookups
Pre-Pandemic: It was all about the pursuit of the pursuit, about the desire to be desired. More meant more and more was always better!
Post-Pandemic: After a year of lockdown and no contact, many singles plan to prioritize the quality of their experiences with fewer people and more meaningful connections, whether it's a long-term relationship or a fling. Esquire and Cosmo both highlighted this major finding: "More than half of our survey respondents say they're just not as into [one-night stands] anymore, and 64 percent say they're less interested in having more than one sexual partner at a time … Thirty-three percent of our respondents want to wait longer to meet someone in person, and 37 percent also want to wait longer to have sex." A massive 70 percent also plan to keep video dating before meeting someone in person, showing that the conversation will matter just as much as the physical chemistry.
Relationships and Commitment
Pre-Pandemic: Many prioritized dating and hooking up until they felt ready for marriage and children. There was nothing but time, so why not?
Post-Pandemic: The harsh realities of mortality and the desire to have enjoyable long-lasting companionship will continue. As Esquire notes, "44 percent of survey respondents overall feel that commitment itself is more important than before." Cosmo highlights that "13 percent say their biggest concern about dating after the pandemic is finding someone who wants to commit." They also noted that "52 percent of singles say a committed relationship is what they want next."
Health and Safety
Pre-Pandemic: Many felt strange or uncomfortable asking about a new partner's sexual health, fearing awkward interactions. Cheating occurred frequently and, as a result, many were putting their bodies at risk.
Post-Pandemic: Cosmo reports that "42 percent of survey respondents say they are more likely to ask a potential partner about their physical health before consenting to sex." Esquire reports that 68 percent of respondents feel less likely to cheat than before [the pandemic]. Plus, Cosmo notes, "51 percent say they're now more likely to use a condom."
Sex and Sexuality
Pre-Pandemic: Gender norms and heteronormative reinforcement made people prioritize what others expected of them over what they themselves truly wanted.
During the Pandemic: The lockdown meant far more time for play, whether with a partner or alone. It also meant more thought to whether a person was ready to actually pursue the sexual partner(s) or pleasure(s) they'd fantasized about. It turns out, they aren't!
Post-Pandemic: Esquire highlights that the Kinsey study points out that "19 percent of our respondents plan to pursue an open relationship in the future, and 46 percent say they're engaging in more sexual experimentation, from erotica to mutual masturbation to toys and more."
So … What Does This All Mean?
"Love and sex are hugely important to most people; they're major contributors to well-being, and they have an impact on our larger society through everything from hook-up culture to the decline of the nuclear family," said Gesselman.
When discussing the three-way partnership of two powerhouse media brands and the top research institute in this arena, it was nothing but praise all around.
"Our collaboration was so much fun -- we all came to the table with different perspectives and different audiences and were always excitedly piggybacking off each other's ideas. I think our very detailed data speaks to that enthusiastic atmosphere that we created around this project," Gesselman said.
Pels elaborated: "On one hand, couples who quarantine together are stronger than they were before. They're happier, they're more satisfied with their sex lives, and they feel more affectionate towards each other. On the other hand, singles who were quarantined alone or quarantined without a partner are much more intent on finding a committed, meaningful, emotionally fulfilling relationship after COVID as opposed to going out there and just having a free-for-all."
Sebastian agreed, then added: "As we move away from our [previously accepted] prescriptive lives, I realize that we as men can reflect a more progressive, diverse definition of manhood."
How Will This Study Impact Media?
Both editors-in-chief agreed that this project -- completed remotely and during a time of great uncertainly in both the worlds of relationships and media -- yielded results beyond the scope of the data itself. It showed them both that their audiences are hungry for content that is more inclusive and less heteronormative.
Pels notes that now, more than ever, Cosmo's goal is "destigmatizing regressive taboos. These are things that really matter to us."
As we move into a post-COVID world, we are all assessing the types of relationships we have and what we want to see mirrored in our media and in our advertisements.
As Pels puts it, "We just lived through hell - those of us who were lucky enough to live through it -- and when you get to the to the brink like that, it makes you rethink your priorities. There's this feeling that this is a second chance at life -- I can do it differently and I can do it better. And the great news is that what 'better' means is 'more authentically for me!'"
It seems likely that the desire for more authenticity as discovered by Cosmo and Esquire in this "Future of Sex" study has certainly given us all a lot to think about in terms of how we live … and a lot to look forward to!
Photos courtesy of Hearst Magazines
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