An Apple employee who is single believes returning to the office will improve their sex life because “I can expand my network, meet people and go on dates.”
But a Twitter employee in a relationship says going back to the office will hurt their sex life because that means “Less time for a nice li’l midday romp.”
The 50 million Americans who worked remotely during the pandemic — including almost all Bay Area tech workers — are returning to the office with very different viewpoints, according to researchers, data and tech workers. Midday romps have been a national pastime for remote workers with romantic partners, but single workers haven’t had such a convenient answer to the challenge of intimacy during COVID.
Ignoring sexuality is a ‘disservice’
Sex and work do not comfortably mix, but they have cohabitated in the same small spaces during COVID isolation, profoundly altering how we see ourselves, our partners and our sexual needs. We are bringing all of that into the workplace to collide with colleagues’ evolving sexual identities. Pretending otherwise is “doing a disservice to the overall health conversation that we’re having,” says Jessamyn Bowling, lead author of the research paper “Perceived Changes in Sexuality during the COVID-19 Pandemic.”
Major themes of deeper intimacy, loneliness and sexual exploration changed many people who are interacting with a peer group for the first time since quarantine with all-day, in-person connections. Workers are privately processing the changes, says Bowling, whose research at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte found “sexuality is interwoven throughout all aspects of people’s lives.”
That might be particularly true of work because “that’s when we look at our lives, engaged with others,” says Bowling. Work is where people are “thinking about oneself as capable, as engaged, as desirable, as powerful.”
Single people often tried out different kinds of sex tech, some quite elaborate, such as coordinated teledildonic accessories — physical sex toys controlled by virtual sex encounters with a partner. But after long remote workdays, they often tired of tech and screens, and are now longing for in-person human connection, a study from the Kinsey Institute found.
People in relationships are surfacing from a deep dive into intimacy. They may have happily explored new kinds of sex with a partner, trying out spanking, sharing porn or making the midday romp a regular part of their schedule, the Kinsey researchers found. Or they may have sunk into contempt of a too-familiar cohabitant they can’t wait to escape.
The comments from the Apple and Twitter workers about the impact on their sex lives of returning to the office come from a survey of 2,517 Bay Area tech workers on the anonymous social network Blind, which identifies users’ employers by the corporate email address used to sign in.
Thirty-five percent of single tech workers believe the reopening of offices and other places will help their sex lives, the survey found. Just 18% of employees in a relationship believe that, while 25% of those with partners believe it will hurt their sex lives. (Around half in both camps believe there will be no effect.)
This doesn’t mean all single workers want to come back to the office, or that all had a painful time in quarantine. Some told researchers they found friendship and explored new kinds of sex alone or with others online.
Nor does it mean everyone in a relationship wants to stay home. Some said in Blind’s survey they believed going into the office would give them a little necessary space from their partner, even if their relationship was happy.
Either way, their social needs now are vastly different from colleagues in the other group.
“The experience of the pandemic was just so different for partnered and single folks,” says Kristen Mark, of the Institute for Sexual and Gender Health at the University of Minnesota Medical School, one of the authors of the Kinsey study on sex during COVID.
Many single people explored sex tech during COVID, researchers found. “Living alone was linked to higher rates of virtual and technology-based behaviors compared to those with a live-in partner, such as sexting and sending nude photos,” says the study Mark co-authored.
The tech could get much more sophisticated. Some had sexual encounters with artificial intelligence programs or created different identities to have virtual sex with strangers.
But tech just wasn’t the same as the human touch. “While incorporating more technology into one’s sex life was common, it did not appear to have been as gratifying as in-person activities,” the researchers wrote.
“They were really more looking for that individual connection as opposed to looking for novelty through the form of sex tech,” Mark says. Working from home seemed to contribute to “people being a little bit burnt out on tech in general.”
Now, single people are probably not going back to the office just looking to hook up with new sexual partners they work with. “Traditionally people have really met partners through work,” says Mark. But single employees may just be feeling “the hope and excitement of going back to being in person.”
Certain tech campuses in the Bay Area are much more conducive to a happy sex life for single workers, according to the poll of Bay Area tech workers, which asked “What do you think will be the impact of the reopening of offices and other places on your sex life?” Sixty-three percent of single Bay Area employees at the job-listing company Indeed believe reopening will help their sex lives. No single Indeed employees think it will hurt their sex lives.
Salesforce, the biggest employer in San Francisco, also fared well with single employees: Half of that company’s single employees said reopening will help their sex lives, while just 14% said it would hurt.
That doesn’t mean co-workers will be ducking into closets like characters on “Grey’s Anatomy,” although some might want to after COVID. “It’s not just the physical act,” says Erika Montanaro, another author of the North Carolina study. “Development of intimacy between people has been redefined. Social engagements at work allow intimacy to develop.”
Workers in relationships
Couples had a very different sexual experience during remote work. Happy couples experimented — maybe just with a different sexual position or a different time of day. But some couples in the Kinsey study went further: 9% of those who tried something new acted on sexual fantasies, some tried spanking for the first time, others had sex in public and others played with food during sex (such as whipped cream).
The experimentation itself helped the relationship, says Mark, who worked on that study. The benefit comes “when people are open to having more fun with their partner, like by taking advantage of their lunch break to engage in sex.”
Plenty of tech workers did that, according to comments in the survey on Blind. Workers at Amazon, Datadog, Twitch, Twitter, BCG, Cigna, Epic Games and Palantir all noted having sex during the workday as an advantage to remote work. If single workers couldn’t reach colleagues in relationships at noon over the past two years, it may well have been because of the midday romp.
Turned on — or not
And now, back to the office. The Bay Area companies that will be interrupting midday romps the most are big names. Forty-five percent of Intel workers in relationships said going back to work will hurt their sex lives versus just 10% who thought it would help.
Forty-three percent of Oracle employees in relationships thought going back would hurt their relationships, while just 25% thought it would help.
Not everything was great among cohabiting couples. “There were folks who had trouble in their relationships, and that trouble was magnified and they left the pandemic being like, ‘I cannot wait to get back to work,’” Mark says.
As a Robinhood employee in a relationship said in the survey on Blind: “I hate my gf.” Going back to work will help their love life, the employee believes.
Many shared experiences create unintended zeitgeists. Quarantined masses who binge-watched “The Queen’s Gambit” on Netflix bought chess boards on Amazon, for instance. In the same way, a certain fetish emerged for many couples in remote work, and that may stick around, researchers say.
People got turned on watching their partners take charge in remote meetings. Suddenly that frumpy person on the couch was a corporate tiger, a passionate nonprofit advocate, a family business titan defending their turf.
“If you’re in the kitchen and you can overhear your partner in the next room dominating a meeting, or just doing a really good job, that can be a real turn-on,” says Mark, the Minnesota researcher.
“This is really attractive to me,” spouses may have thought, says Montanaro, the North Carolina researcher. “I’d like to see this more.”