The Pursuit of Sext Appeal in a COVID Climate

Salacious sexting marathons represent the ultimate respite from our pandemic-induced monotony, even as we ignore our actual friends for the shirtless hunk in our phone.

There is an inverse correlation between my familiarity with someone and how quickly I will answer their text message. I leave my good friends hanging for dinner plans, while firing off an avalanche of deviant sexts to “discrete jock” whenever he pings–even if it comes at the most inopportune time, like when I’m trying to change lanes in the middle of rush-hour traffic.

It’s important to note these spells don’t last forever. There is often a moment of great comeuppance, usually when we finally decide to meet. After months of sending erotic screeds, I sheepishly inform my dream man I’m “just not feeling it tonight,” and proceed to wait for my Uber home. Then I drown myself in Melatonin, in case the shame keeps me up all night.

Since the start of the pandemic, hoards of people have flocked to the virtual sex world, creating OnlyFans accounts and wading into the wonderfully perverted world of Alt Twitter. The platforms often work in conjunction with one another: teasers on Twitter, full scene on OF. It’s the kind of entrepreneurial spirit that Ronald Reagan surely would’ve championed.

Of course, the top reason for OnlyFans’ exploding popularity is not sultry at all: it is financial destitution. The U.S. still has 10 million fewer jobs than before the pandemic, with the restaurant and entertainment industries utterly collapsing. When OnlyFans launched in 2016, it had five creators. Today, it boasts more than 1 million. Since May, its audience has jumped from 30 million users to 85 million users.

While there are some success stories–over 100 creators make at least $1 million annually from the platform–most OF models struggle to promote their pages. The New York Times interviewed one woman who’s made just $250 from OnlyFans, despite spending eight hours per day on the platform.

But my manic Grindr habits predate COVID-19, and despite my desperate financial straits, I’m not tempted to start an OnlyFans. The anxiety of getting caught would send me into a constant state of delirium, and if I wasn’t willing to actually promote my page, what would be the point?

Well, I guess the point would be community, which we are all lacking these days. Schools are shuttered; gatherings are severely restricted. People have nowhere to go except their smartphone screens, where two things are more accessible than ever: QAnon and porn.

My Grindr use was at its peak during my early post-grad days, when my gay community consisted of two ex-boyfriends. Too skittish to venture out to gay spaces, the Grindr grid was a way to unlock the Gay World. There, I was wild and promiscuous, opposed to the awkward kid who wore J. Crew polos.

It is intoxicating to be engrossed in a steamy multi-day sexting marathon. The salacious exchanges represent the ultimate respite from our pandemic-induced monotony. Our COVID winter is even bleaker than advertised, with a vaccine rollout that’s plagued with incompetence and miscommunication. It’s enough to make somebody scream.

Or start telling this random person on Snapchat your desire to live together (that’s the obvious next step!) and turn every mundane life activity–from cooking to bathing–into a seductive role-play scene.

The most appealing part of an online sex fantasy is the lack of accountability. It’s like you’re starring in your own pornography, with full editorial control, and none of the physical risk. For the last year, we’ve been inundated with messages about the danger of doing, well, everything: picking up groceries, standing in line, eating at restaurants. It’s only natural to yearn for freedom.

The draw of pornography is rooted in a desire to escape. Sexting fulfills that craving, while also satisfying our insatiable need for fleeting affirmation. I can’t get that from going to the club anymore, so instead, I unlock my home screen. It works, just as long as our sordid conversations stay there.

When you try to make it a reality, the adventure is gone.

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