Zoom Sex in the Age of Anxiety

Life & Love

Love hurts, but falling off the bed in a corset and thigh-highs hurts more.

That’s what I’m learning at Bedography, a virtual “women’s empowerment class through dance,” according to Julia Sokol, CEO and founder of SassClass, the dance studio that produces the series. The Instagram tutorial combines the moves of a rookie stripper with the vibes of Kris Jenner’s mantra: “You’re doing amazing, sweetie!” Bedography’s premise is pretty simple—bounce on a mattress in lingerie or comfy pajamas, pose, flash some skin, repeat—but in practice, it’s kind of a commitment. To maximize my potential for success, I’ve got to find an outfit that’s flirty and flexible, angle my whole body so it’s visible onscreen, adjust the lighting on my laptop, and whip my hair back and forth with the vitality of Willow Smith but the camp of the late Anna Nicole Smith. And just when I think I look drop-dead sexy, I roll too fast across my sheets and literally just…drop.

Why am I bruising my thighs along with my ego? Because a recent Harris Poll found 28 percent of American women “wish there was a better way to connect with a partner for virtual sex and pleasure” right now. And as “Zoom sex” becomes a catchphrase of sex scientists and social media hashtags alike, I want to see what kind of “video intimacy” is actually possible—with or without scrape marks from my bodice’s surprisingly strong underwire. (Well done, Stella McCartney!) And apparently, I’m not alone.

“I get questions about video sex every day,” says Stoya, the adult film producer and performer who coauthors Slate’s infamous (and very handy) “How to Do It” column. “It’s part of the COVID uptick in people wanting nonphysical sex, period. Because it’s such a stressful time, I’m also getting a lot of questions about how to get horny!” she says, laughing. “Video sex can be great for building arousal if you’re not feeling it. You can egg your partner on and say, ‘What should I do to myself?’ Then they can egg you on. And that mutual combination of sex talk and intimate imagery can build a spark. You can get off together, even if you’re not together.”

In the age of Facetune, what feels less safe than baring all without filters for a camera?

“Desire is more important a lot of times than physical touch,” agrees Megwyn White, a clinical sexologist and the director of education at Satisfyer. It’s a strange sentiment from an employee at a sex toy brand, but White insists that especially in the COVID world, absence does indeed make the clitoris grow fonder. “In this digital age, we’re not attuned to the subtleties of pleasure feedback. [Zoom sex] is really helpful to highlight that all-important feedback,” especially if you find props—like Satisfyer’s remote-controlled pleasure toys—that can heighten your own arousal and your pride in bringing someone else to climax. “But first,” she says, “you need to trust each other enough to feel vulnerable onscreen.”

And there’s the rub: In the age of Facetune, what feels less safe than baring all without filters for a camera? I consider this as I attempt to slowly take off my bra on another video—a hump day treat for my not-yet-boyfriend. We’ve been dating for about two months, and though it’s been intense, I can’t get out of my head about whether he actually likes me—which is an inner-voice thing, not a picked-the-wrong-guy thing. To reward him for dealing with my chirpy brand of insecurity, I figure the least I can do is send some PG-13 Boomerangs his way…but alas, my amateur film clip is hardly the striptease of my Coyote Ugly dreams. The bra straps have left pressed pink stripes down my shoulders; the clasp releases in one spasmodic snap, and my breasts don’t bounce out of the cups à la an OnlyFans ingenue. Instead, they kind of swing back and forth like those metal stress balls on the desk of a showy lawyer. I feel defeated and silly and, worst of all, desperate.

Enter Emma Sayle, the founder of the female-led sex club Killing Kittens. “You’re doing that ‘girl’ thing, you know?” she says, laughing. “Since we’re little, we’re told sex is all about the man. Sex ed at school is the penis and vagina and ends with him ejaculating. That messaging is so ingrained in us! It takes a lot of reprogramming.” Like Bedography classes to feel sexy on a Zoom romp? “Like understanding the shame about your body isn’t because you have a bad body. It’s because you have a bad male-dominated society,” she says, sighing. “And look, now is the perfect opportunity to be selfish and find out what makes you tick.” That may or may not include Killing Kittens’ famous group sex parties, which started in London, but now—thanks to the magic of Zoom—incorporate 60 screens (or 120-plus people), often with participants spanning six continents. “You get people having sex on their screens,” she says frankly. “People can chat privately with other screens. Pin a screen so you can see what one screen is up to. Group chat to everyone. We create an environment where there is no shame, by normalizing the conversation around sexual intercourse. Look, we try new fitness trends and diet trends and skin care routines all the time. We talk about it to our mates…but if you want to try something new and sexual, that’s weird? It’s not weird. It’s great. And your body is not weird. Your body,” she says firmly, “is great.” “Look at it this way,” Stoya adds. “If someone’s asking you for a video of your ass, it means they want to see your ass. They’re already attracted to you. So take the compliment, say thank you,” and ride that ego boost as far as it will take you.

Which brings me back on my back for Bedography, round two. I nail the Instagram-ready routine a little better this time around, but I still feel like I’m auditioning for Moulin Rouge! instead of inching closer to carnal fulfillment. “Can we normalize looking normal?!” groans Lindsey Metselaar, the host of We Met at Acme, a podcast about millennial dating in New York City. “That class sounds fun as hell, but seriously, all this performative sex stuff isn’t going to get you any closer to emotional trust and intimacy, which most women find is the fastest way to climax with another person. You want to have FaceTime sex? Have it with someone you’re already connected to. Otherwise, we need to get over all this shame about masturbation, which honestly is just good self-care. If you’re not feeling safe enough to strip down for someone else, that’s fine. You will be eventually. But for now, turn the camera off and give yourself what you want.”

Right now, that’s an ice pack and some Tylenol for my bruised ribs. But I send an iCal invite to the not-yet-boyfriend for a Zoom call tomorrow. We’ll probably just talk about our days and the news and the hazy future happiness we may or may not try to build together. But just in case, I’ve got a corset, a Zoom account, and a remote-operated sex toy, and I’m not (entirely) afraid to use them.

This article appears in the February 2021 issue of ELLE.

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