In early 2020, when the world was becoming more aware of the COVID-19 pandemic and beginning to participate in self-quarantining measures and social distancing, the UK government issued guidance that couples not currently living together should make the decision to either move in or agree to stay apart during the lockdown.
For some couples, that may have led to an opportunity to see even more of each other, but for others, it may have created (or intensified) a long-distance scenario with virtually no end in sight. In some cases, even married couples have been forced to live apart due to the pandemic, and many are navigating these relationship strains for the first time. For others already in committed long-distance relationships, this was business as usual.
For this study, we polled over 1,000 people currently living in long-distance relationships – both because of COVID-19 restrictions and those typically distanced – and asked them how they’re staying connected to their partners sexually, the kinds of guidelines they’re setting for “physical” contact, and how often they’re getting to see each other during the pandemic. Read on as we explore the digital tools seasoned long-distance couples use for sexual intimacy and the necessary steps to keep relationships happy and healthy in these unprecedented times.
If there’s anything most people have been experiencing together in 2020, it’s some combination of stress and anxiety. Combined, the emotional drain of the pandemic (and everything that’s come with it) can naturally have a negative impact on your libido, making even the thought of sexual intimacy feel like a drag. The good news is that there’s still hope for taking advantage of the self-care that comes with sex, it just means being more mindful and deliberate with the way we think about sexual intimacy.
For both typical long-distance couples and those forced into long-distance due to COVID-19 restrictions, digital connectivity helped them stay connected sexually, including through phone calls (46%), text messages (42%), Snapchat (37%), and FaceTime (32%). The idea of sexting for partners in committed relationships may be different than those in more casual arrangements, but it can be a fun and different way to engage sexually for all couples.
More than half (55%) of the couples surveyed connected by sending flirty text messages throughout the day, followed by making sexual plans for the next time they’re together (51%) and sexting (48%). While slightly less common, 43% of couples sent nudes to each other, and 37% reminisced about past sexual experiences. The most satisfying ways to connect included making sexual plans for the future (41%) and sending flirty texts throughout the day (38%).
Finding an Opportunity to Connect
As lockdown restrictions continue to ease, long-distance couples may have an opportunity to see more of each other. Among those surveyed, 70% of people reported being in a long-distance engagement as a result of COVID-19, while 30% of respondents were in long-distance relationships prior to the pandemic.
Of course, distance may help make the heart grow even fonder for some. 47% of the people surveyed indicated fighting less with the added space between them, though 36% said they were arguing about the same as before. Just 17% of people indicated fighting more since becoming long-distance with their partner.
Among those where in-person visiting was still possible, 37% of people in long-distance relationships acknowledged having rules on how frequently they should visit their partner. Among people who also identified being extremely satisfied with their relationship, 82% also took turns traveling to see each other. Couples with rules on how often they should be seeing each other were 19 percentage points more likely to fight less than those without similar guidelines in place.
Bridging the Distance Gap
Particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic, with so much added space between loved ones and lack of everyday interactions with friends or co-workers, we may be craving physical intimacy even more than usual. Among couples currently in long-distance relationships, 33% of respondents reported the ideal visit was between one and three nights long, with 24% of people indicating slightly longer at four to six nights. Eighteen per cent of people reported the ideal length of time for their partner to visit was 14 nights or more.
With regards to frequency, roughly 1 in 4 people currently in a long-distance relationship see their partner only once every three months, with another 1 in 5 seeing each other once every two months. Just 17% of respondents indicated visiting their partners once a week, and 14% said they were able to visit twice a month.
Nearly 74% of couples living apart took turns traveling to visit one another, though just 36% said they split the cost of travel evenly. Women were nearly twice as likely as men to say their partner spent more money on travel when they were able to see each other in person. Couples who split costs evenly (48%) were the most likely to indicate being extremely satisfied with their relationships, while those paying more for travel themselves were typically more likely to report being just somewhat (29%) or only slightly (6%) satisfied with the relationship.
When there are too many miles between you and your partner, the occasional surprise (from something sweet and simple to something on the sexier side of things) can help to make up for some of that distance. In some cases, those surprises can even include the present of your presence.
58% of people currently in long-distance relationships reported their partner had surprised them by showing up unexpectedly, and 54% did the same for their partner. 60% of women indicated their partner had shown up to surprise them with a visit, compared to 55% of men.
Not unlike any other kind of relationship, long-distance couples can have their ups and downs. Even if it seems challenging, relationship experts say there are still opportunities for sexual intimacy as long as you’re willing to put in the effort and use the tools you may have at your disposal.
Of course, reuniting has its perks too, and that includes the sex. For 39% of people, the sex after reuniting with their partner was often as good as they expected, and nearly as many (37%) said it was always as good as expected. Just 20% of couples currently in long-distance relationships said the sex after a lapse was only sometimes as good as anticipated. Men surveyed were less likely than women to indicate the sex was only sometimes or rarely as good as they’d expected after an extended separation from their partner.
Staying Connected During the Distance
Social distancing isn’t always easy, and for couples who are already living in a long-distance relationship, it can be even harder. Many couples use technology to stay intimately connected with their partner, including over the phone, via FaceTime, and even sexting. Still, there may be no substitute for an in-person reunion after too many weeks or months apart, and for both seasoned and newly distanced couples alike, the reunion sex is frequently as good as they expect it to be.
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Methodology and Limitations
Using Clickworker and Amazon Mechanical Turk, we surveyed Americans and Britons about their experiences being in a long-distance relationship.
The first visual of our study was explored in a different survey. In order to qualify for this portion of our study, respondents had to either be currently in a long-distance relationship or currently living separately from their partner and unable to see them due to COVID-19. We had 184 couples temporarily long distance due to COVID-19 and 190 couples who are long distance regularly.
Those completing our survey were comprised of 200 women, 163 men, and two nonbinary respondents. Their average age was 30.7 with a standard deviation of 10.5.
The remainder of our study is based on a survey using Clickworker and MTurk involving 331 American and UK respondents. Women comprised 178 respondents, and 151 were men. We also had two respondents identify as nonbinary. The average age of this cohort was 32.74 with a standard deviation of 11.46.
Neither survey has been weighted and both rely on self-reporting, which could lead to over- or underreporting by respondents. Therefore, there are limitations to this data, and it should be used for exploratory purposes only.
Fair Use Statement
Have a friend with a long-distance lover who might appreciate our findings? Or perhaps you’d like to share a few spicy suggestions with your own significant other? Whatever your reasons for sharing our project, we welcome you to use our images and information for any noncommercial purposes. If you do, however, please link back to this page to attribute our team appropriately.