Psychologists will often link someone’s sexual proclivities back to what is happening in their world, outside of the bedroom (or the sex cave, glory hole – wherever one likes to get their rocks off). Nothing is ever entirely random. To say, “That’s just what I’m into in bed” simply isn’t true. Extensive research on those into BDSM has found that participants of this erotic practice are often extraverted, yet not very agreeable, exhibit a higher subjective wellbeing, and are not neurotic. Ironically, you may have thought those into BDSM were into controlling things, and possibly shy outside of their leather masks, but studies have found quite the opposite.
Science has a way of dissecting even the factions of life we think cannot be figured out – like sexual kinks. It’s almost always connected to what’s happening outside of sex, so now that we know that, aren’t you a bit curious to see how the pandemic played a role in, well, roleplay? And fetishes? And the sales of vibrators and tingly lubricants? Surprisingly, it did have an impact. Think of the factors: social isolation, being stuck with one person, constant underlying anxiety. Many of these dynamics could push someone into some new sexual territories, and research shows they very well might have. Let’s take a look at some of the most popular sexual kinks that came about during the pandemic.
Sadism and masochism
Coming in at number 10 is a combination of sexual sadism and masochism. Sexual sadism is defined by receiving pleasure from inflicting pain or humiliation on another person. Sexual masochism is defined by receiving pleasure from having pain or humiliation inflicted upon oneself. Those who’ve studied the kinks have found that participants consider themselves “switchable,” meaning they enjoy being hurt/humiliated as well as doing the hurting/humiliating. Sigmund Freud defined two types of sadism, primary and secondary, with the first involving total rejection by the other party, and the latter being a bit more casual. In layman’s terms, secondary sadism may still result in some affection later, but primary sadism likely will not. Other great psychological minds think this kink is related to one’s desire to either be in total control or give up total control—inclinations you can see one having during a chaotic pandemic.
Coming in at number nine we have voyeurism. Now, voyeurism is defined by a desire to watch someone get undressed, be naked, or engage in sexual activity, without that person knowing it. People often confuse voyeurism with a desire to be watched while getting undressed, being nude, or having sex, but that is actually exhibitionism. While there can be some legality and morality issues surrounding true voyeurism (with the naked party having their privacy violated), some couples find ways to legitimize the kink. In many cases, there is an agreement that, at some time, one person will observe the other (to which the latter consents), but the exact time is kept a secret. Someone with exhibitionist tendencies can derive pleasure from knowing at any given time, they may be watched, and someone with voyeuristic tendencies can enjoy feeling they’re doing the watching “in secrecy.” If you consider how many individuals are packed into apartment buildings in the cities due to COVID-19, you can see how one of these relationships may play out between two neighbors with windows that face one another.
Role play comes in at number eight on our list of popular pandemic kinks. At first glance, you may think couples are engaging in it because the quarantine has made them so tired of their partners, and the only way they can become aroused is by pretending they’re dealing with somebody else. Fortunately, though, some studies have shown most couples aren’t experiencing many conflicts during the quarantine. So the love of role play is about something else. Role play for many is not about envisioning a partner as somebody else, but rather about being somebody else. Role play allows for an escape from reality. It gives one the chance to speak, behave, and even think like somebody else. One can quickly see how nearly anyone would want an escape from reality right now (pandemic, social unrest, high unemployment), and sexual role play can offer it.
Number seven is foot fetishes. Any sort of fetishism involves sexualizing something that is not typically considered sexual. While we may think of objects not connected to the human body in that case, a foot can be fetishized. By the way, research finds that fetishism is surprisingly prevalent, both among men and women. And our source poll shows foot fetishes are very big during the pandemic. At this point, you may have heard the stories about women making thousands of dollars every month selling photos of their feet – even women with conventional day jobs. So why the particular rise in foot fetishism during a pandemic? Possibly more access. Due to unemployment rates, individuals need new ways to make money, from home. With a nice set of toes and a good camera, you’re in business. And what a booming business it is, evidently.
Coming in at number six we have age play. Age play is a form of role play, but particularly pertains to one or both parties pretending to be an age which they are not. Infantilism, in which one party pretends to be a baby, is a popular form of it, and can involve wearing a diaper (called diaperism), drinking from a bottle, or pretending to nurse. Infantilism is in fact so popular that there is an entire store dedicated to adult baby diapers and similar accessories. Its brick-and-mortar location was not welcomed with open arms by local Chicago residents. Role-playing as a schoolgirl or schoolboy is also popular, but all cases involve two consenting adults.
Anal play ranks number five on the top 10 pandemic kinks. Research shows that a good deal of heterosexual couples engage in anal intercourse – with 36 percent of women and 44 percent of men between the ages of 25 and 44 having reported doing it at some point in their lives. Anal play doesn’t have to involve intercourse, though. It can also involve the insertion of a foreign object, sex toy, or fingers. Another study found that the majority of women who engage in anal play state that the act was unplanned for and not discussed in advance and that even those who enjoy the sensation still prefer vaginal intercourse. Nonetheless, people are doing it during the pandemic. Maybe everyone wants something new on the menu – both in the kitchen and bedroom.
Coming in at number four we have bondage. It’s the act of tying up or restraining a partner. Bondage is sometimes looped into sadism or masochism, but not the other way around, as bondage does not have to involve the infliction of pain or humiliation. And seeing as it’s much higher up on our list than sadism/masochism, it likely appeals to a different sensibility. For some, bondage can actually make a person feel more secure. They like the feeling of being covered in the preferred materials (straps, ribbons, ties, etc.) and restrained. Rather than feeling trapped, they feel safe. Safety is certainly a feeling many of us are chasing during this pandemic, so one can see how this kink climbed the ranks.
Edging (Orgasm Control)
Orgasm control, also known as edging, is third on our list and has grown in popularity in recent years in the kink community. The medical community, however, has known about it for quite some time. As a matter of fact, orgasm control is a method doctors teach men who struggle with premature ejaculation, but it can be practiced by men and women. Put simply, edging is the act of intentionally delaying orgasm – bringing oneself back from “the edge” right before climaxing, possibly repeatedly, before finally orgasming. Some say it can lead to a more intense climax. So what of its prevalence during a pandemic? Well, if there’s not much to do during quarantine besides have sex, you almost have to savor the orgasms.
Ranking second on our list of pandemic kinks is dominant/submissive behavior. This is one kink that is often misunderstood and confused with sadism/masochism, but it does not have to involve the infliction of pain or humiliation. In the dom/sub dynamic, one individual is in total control and the other must ask for permission to do anything. Touch the dom’s leg. Eat the banana. Whatever. The specifics are up to the couple, but one person (the dom) grants permission and the other (the sub) must ask for it. One doctor discusses the psychology behind it, explaining that much of it pertains to wanting to switch conventional “roles,” wherein women are typically the ones being “mounted” in sex (dominated) and men are doing the mounting (dominating). In the dom/sub role, either person can take on a role that isn’t traditionally theirs.
The top kink on this list should come as no surprise. Virtual sex is being enjoyed by nearly 25 percent of the nearly 4,000 individuals who were surveyed in our source study. One survey of Gen Z folks under 35 found that six out of 10 engaged in virtual sex sometime during the pandemic and that 75 percent of those tried virtual sex for the very first time during this time. Additional research has found that behaviors that still carried some stigma before the pandemic, like using sex toys, masturbation, and – you guessed it – cybersex, have become much more normalized thanks to our current state of living.