The fall season is here, and the talk about “hot vax summer” — as disappointing as it may have been — has died down. This can only mean one thing: it’s time for cuffing season.
Cuffing season, originally an AAVE (African American Vernacular English) phrase, is a “biopsychosocial phenomenon,” according to Dr. Justin Lehmiller.
This means there are biological, psychological, and societal reasons for us pairing up in the fall and winter months, according to Lehmiller, a scientific fellow at the Kinsey Institute and author of Tell Me What You Want: The Science of Sexual Desire.
This is true in any cuffing season, but this one is particularly intriguing. Many people in the United States have received the COVID vaccine, while many in other regions of the world have not. While the number of cases in the United States is decreasing, the future remains unknown.
People have two unique objectives heading into post-vax life, according to a survey conducted by Kinsey and Lovehoney, a sex toy company where Lehmiller is a scientific advisor: kink or relationships — or, for some, both.
“What we want and need in our intimate life right now is a little different than what we did before,” said Lehmiller, a social psychologist with a PhD.
Why you want to be “cuffed”
71 percent of 2,000 American people polled by Kinsey/Lovehoney between May and June 2021 stated they are more interested in long-term partnerships now than they were before the pandemic.
Other evidence backs this up. Hinge, a dating app, discovered that 75% of users (out of 2,000 polled in May 2021) planned to start dating this summer. Then there’s Mashable’s own post-vaccine dating poll, which found that young people prefer serious relationships to casual ones.
Not only do more people want to travel steadily, but they also wish to travel at a slower pace: According to Kinsey/Lovehoney, 36% of people say first date sex is a deal breaker, while a third of Hinge users say they’re waiting longer to have sex.
There are a variety of explanations for the slowing, according to Lehmiller, including and beyond the biopsychosocial cuffing phenomenon.
The biological component is that the change in our solar exposure during the colder months alters the generation of neurotransmitters involved in mood regulation (this is one explanation for Seasonal Affective Disorder).
The pressure to have a partner for holiday socializing is both psychological and social. As the weather becomes cooler in some parts of the country, we’re less likely to get out and engage with others. There’s a perk to having someone to return home to at that time.
This biopsychosocial event occurs year after year, according to Lehmiller. For example, data on “in a relationship” Facebook statuses and dating app usage has traditionally shown an increase during the winter months.
Then there are the pandemic-related explanations, which include lingering health and safety worries as well as worry about what this fall and winter may bring. The latter could serve as a “accelerator” for people to begin dating again.
People, on the other hand, are looking for more than just a relationship. People crave meaningful connections after experiencing the brunt of a pandemic of loneliness and stress.
“They don’t want the shallow interactions they had before,” Lehmiller explained. “They’re looking for a more profound connection.”
Not only were there more people dating online during the epidemic, but the nature of the dating was (obviously) different as well. Because our intimacy requirements were not being met in other ways, singles resorted to having candid talks via text or video.
Daters want to get intimacy “correct” now that we can date in person again. There’s a greater desire to find the perfect person rather than just being in a relationship for the sake of being in one.
According to Kinsey/Lovehoney, this could explain why people are taking their relationships more slowly – and why more than half, 52 percent, are less interested in casual sex.
Pre-vaccination, casual encounters were anything but casual, according to Logan Ury, Hinge’s director of relationship science. You had to figure out who your “pod” mates were and have open and honest discussions about safety. Because of this deliberateness, I now have fewer sexual partners.
Some of us want literal handcuffs
People now want to explore sexually in addition to wanting to be in a relationship. According to the Kinsey/Lovehoney poll, 51% of respondents indicated their sexual preferences altered as a result of the pandemic. Seventy-three percent stated they got kinkier.
A similar shift was observed on Hinge, where 45 percent of over 3,000 users polled in August 2021 stated they wanted to explore new things in the bedroom with a new partner this fall. A staggering 80% stated having a sexually open and adventurous spouse is vital to them.
Cuffing season 2021 is described by Hinge as a “time of transition.”
Over the last 18 months, “singles” have spent a lot of time alone, searching inward and tapping into their imagination “Ury elaborated. “With increased mental freedom comes the opportunity to release new sexual desires – with the appropriate partner.”
There are various explanations for this, according to Lehmiller. Kink could have been a novelty for those who tried during the pandemic, breaking up the monotony of lockdown.
Furthermore, we become more absorbed in the experience when we do new sexual things. We’re more present, so you’re not only entertained, but you’re also not worrying about COVID news on a daily basis.
People’s mortality was also pushed to the forefront by the pandemic. Lehmiller defined a “need to make up for lost time” and a drive to complete one’s “sexual bucket list” in this article. COVID reminded some of us that life is short, so we might as well be kinky today.
“COVID has brought into sharp focus the truth that each day isn’t guaranteed,” said Sofiya Alexandra, co-founder and co-host of Private Parts Unknown, a podcast that explores love and sexuality around the world, “and that if you want to live life to the fullest, you better start now.”
Relationship and kink urges are distinct psychological demands (the former for connection, the latter for sex), but both are founded in our pandemic experience.
Some people, in fact, want both: According to the Kinsey/Lovehoney poll, 31% of singles who are more interested in long-term partnerships are kinkier now than they were before the pandemic.
Are we really done with one-night stands?
These figures don’t necessarily imply that everyone is looking for kinky sex or a way out of the pandemic. “It’s not true that everyone is more adventurous,” Lehmiller explained. “It’s not true that casual sex is less appealing to everyone.”
Because there are so many people on the planet, there is a wide range of desires; not everyone wants to be handcuffed. For example, Tinder stated earlier this year that the future of dating is fluid, and that individuals may be more receptive to diverse types of connections.
Others, on the other hand, are throwing in thirds (or more) to the mix. From 2020 to 2021, the sexual exploration app Feeld reported a 670 percent increase in singles identifying threesomes as their top desire. People who identify as ethically non-monogamous and polyamorous are also on the rise.
As life settles into a new routine, the question of whether these fresh desires will stick around arises. Will people revert to their old habits?
People will ultimately return to one-night stands and casual sex, according to Lehmiller, but it won’t happen quickly. “There’s still a lot of lingering doubt,” he said, “and I think it’ll be a while before we see that happen.”
How to survive this (kinky) cuffing season
Maybe you’ve been out of the dating game the past 18 months — or maybe you’ve had a disappointing “vaxxed and waxed” summer and are looking for something a bit more serious now. Either way, you may be navigating lingering pandemic feelings of hesitation, not to mention grief and trauma.
Ury said to give yourself compassion and realize you’re not alone in these feelings. Instead of hiding them on a date, you can be vulnerable; it may encourage your date to express themselves freely, as well.
“You can skip the small talk and have a really interesting conversation,” said Ury.
For those looking to cuff this fall and winter, Lehmiller suggests starting early. Online dating produces a lot of options; you may need to talk to a lot of people to find someone you truly have a connection with.
You want a partner who is similarly invested, according to Courtney Kocak, a fellow co-founder and co-host of Private Parts Unknown. That means telling potential suitors exactly what you’re looking for this cuffing season (and possibly beyond) and being willing to walk away if it’s not a good fit.
Early discussion about sex was encouraged by Lehmiller. In the Kinsey/Lovehoney study, 52 percent of vaccinated singles said they’re more inclined to talk about safe sex practices in the future. Unvaccinated singles account for 30% of the total, but it’s obvious that communication habits have shifted for some in the last year and a half.
There’s even more proof on this front: after a few dates, 40% of Hinge users feel safe revealing a sexual dream with a partner.
According to Lehmiller, embracing sexual communication early on can pave the way for a more fulfilling sexual relationship in the future.
If you want to try kink with a new partner, Ury recommends first getting to know your own body. Before you can ask for what you want in bed, you must first determine what you desire.
Meanwhile, Lehmiller advised looking for said spouse in the correct locations. Feeld, an app that caters to people looking for kinky and other exploratory sexual settings, may make it easier to locate a kinky partner than other applications.
When you do find a companion, Lehmiller advises that you start small and work your way up. Begin by expressing your fantasies and wishes. Vulnerability is the quickest method to develop intimacy, and the best way to do it is to be honest about your desires.
You are not required to reveal the most daring conduct right immediately. Instead, spend some time to develop intimacy with your partner. Even look up best practices for the issues you wish to work out.
The key, according to Lehmiller, is a great deal of communication. Ascertain that everyone is doing what they want and that safety procedures are being observed.
Although the hot vax summer was a flop, there are plenty of opportunities for love and “sexploration” this cuffing season.
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