Love during COVID-19

28 April 2020

Intimacy is a substantial need for the human being and it deeply contributes to personal satisfaction in both friendship and romantic relationships. Intimacy enriches the individual also without words, through the thrill of a touch or the comfort of a hug (Prager et al., 2013). As a response to the disruption of intimate contacts caused by the current demand of social distancing, individuals are looking for new alternatives. Among these, electronic tools have become even more essential to evade from reality and recreate the desired intimacy behind the well-known screen (Giuili, 2020). To do so, people are greatly utilising dating apps. In fact, as it has been reported, dating apps have been increasingly downloaded and the general usage has considerably grown since the beginning of the pandemic (Stunson, 2020). For instance, Tinder, one of the most popular dating apps on the market, has registered, on March 29, more than 3 billion swipes. Such result is the highest number of swipes ever registered on a single day (Perez, 2020). A possible reason to such result could be the need for intimacy but, as also suggested by Catalina Toma, associate professor of communication science at UW Madison, the increase use of dating apps could be motivated as a way to overcome boredom and loneliness, to make friends but also to fulfil the human desire to feel wanted (Perez, 2020). However, swiping right is not enough, it does not accurately fulfil the need for intimacy but, above all, the need for touch. As Dr. Kim Alexander affirmed, every human being posses the so-called “skin hunger” identified as the need for touch which keep people healthy. In fact, it works as a painkiller. Therefore, sex is fundamental as it helps people feel safe and cared but even just a small contact, as a hug, can reduce physical and mental tension (Ahsan, 2020).


In the current situation, several couples have the opportunity to spend and enjoy this time together. Those people who do not have a live-in sex partner, instead, have started to employ different options such as sexting, chat rooms and phone sex (Ahsan, 2020). Virtual sex and the subsequent forms of sexting or phone sex have always existed but they have also been a taboo. Due to the pandemic, however, the taboo is falling, and a new rationality is growing above all, among the younger generations (Giuili, 2020). In addition to this, masturbation has become more accepted and people have started to explore the sex world and all the toys included. As registered by latest research, online sales for sex toys and accessories has been subjected to an unexpected but significant increase. For instance, WeVibe and Womanizer, two main sex toy brands on the market, have exceeded their monthly sales projections by more than 40% in the month of March. More specifically, Womanizer has registered an increase number of sales for toys designed for masturbation (Smothers, 2020). In this context, the market of teledildonics has incredibly grown. The term teledildonics is used to describe high-tech, interactive, internet-connected sex toys. Such market has always suffered from the several stereotypes and taboo it represents but, thanks to COVID-19, it has registered a remarkable increase in sales, above all in those countries where isolation and self-distancing have been strongly applied. For instance, in Italy, only in the month of March, sex toy revenue has outpaced projected goals by 124% (Dickson, 2020). The increase of high-tech sex toys is possibly due to the fact that they allow interaction between people even from afar, and they facilitate touch, one of the most fundamental human needs (Dickson, 2020).


In this particular moment, people are sensory deprived but these toys help consumers to connect and to discharge arousal far more than all the dating apps on the market.  In fact, as argued by Axel-Jürg Potempa, a German sexual health specialist, “the crisis caused by the fear of COVID-19 has prompted a flood of adrenalin and a subsequent dopamine rush which increases desires and libido” (Chazan, 2020). In addition to the general increase of sales, the pandemic has evoked a change in the buying behaviour of the consumers towards the sex toy market. In fact, as also reported by Alicia Sinclair, CEO and founder of COTR, a premium manufacturer of sexual intimacy products, it seems that people have started to buy far more accessories than in the past, as if they might be needed in the future (Smothers, 2020). Such behaviour could be motivated by the belief that, in the imminent months, intimate and sexual relationships will not be allowed or, on the other hand, people will be more likely to avoid such contacts as a consequence to the fear developed during the pandemic. Therefore, in the future months, sex toy brands are likely to see a further increase in their sales. Such prediction could be explained also because of the deconstruction of the taboo that is currently taking place. In fact, the desire and need for intimacy and the increase of libido have led to a change in the people’s attitudes toward the sex toy market, stereotyped from the beginning of times. People have started to accept such market and discover the advantages that these products can bring.


The usage of sex toys is increasing due to people’s willingness to masturbate and fulfil the void of intimacy during isolation. In fact, the only people who could have sex at the moment, are the ones that are isolating with their long-term partners who actually, may have less sex then the rest of the population. Following this, David Reher, professor emeritus at Complutense University of Madrid, argues that the number of conceptions in nine months time will be far less than the one expected. Such result could be also motivated by the fact that people have become more careful due to the fear of the economic uncertainty that will follow the pandemic. However, Reher argues that an increase of conceptions will be visible in the future as a consequence to the possibility to rejoin with families and sexual partners (Mellor, 2020). Following this, it could be argued that in more than a year, it would be possible to observe an increase of sales in baby retailers due to the sexual activity resumed after the end of isolation. It is registered, however, that many people are also trying to conceive during this period as the pandemic made them realise that life is too short to waste time (North, 2020). Therefore, baby retailers can see some jump in sales even within the next 12 months.


Such shifts in intimacy-fulfilling behaviours can also create long-term changes in human behaviour. As our intimacy is not being fulfilled well enough in the lockdown, we will seek more of it once the restrictions end. This can influence how we choose to experience retail locations in-person and connect with other human beings. Our newly found romance with sex toys can last way beyond the lockdown, but we are unlikely to see a way more open communication or physical experiences acceptance amongst customers. Virtual proximity is considerably different to physical proximity and, as much as we see loosening of taboos around sex now, we are likely to see their slight increase once we are able to shop in stores. Brands therefore need to be careful how differently they’re creating their intimacy online at the moment versus what they will do in-stores post-lockdown.


As baby retailers are likely to see the increase in sales, they also need to prepare for a new wave of customers. Cleanliness will be extremely important, not only in stores, but also in packaging, designs of products and more. Sustainability is likely to become even more important for more customers, therefore introducing sustainable products lines is a minimum that baby brands should do. Nostalgia will continue being incredibly strong driver of consumption, including in baby clothes and baby room furniture. Expect vintage looks, more natural fabrics and materials as well as handmade becoming increasingly important. As people come out of isolation, they will want to enjoy shopping in-store, however their expectations for retail experience will be considerably increased. Brands should therefore invest now in reshaping their in-store experiences.


All these and many more shifts in consumer behaviour can be expected. How they are applied is key to success. Contact us if you have any questions, would like to gain more insight on your market or find solutions to your current and future challenges. Consumer psychology has never been as crucial to brand success as it is now.




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