The past year was filled with contradictions: LGBTQ2S+ folks were tasked with finding safe, creative ways to have sex—solo and with others—during a deadly, stressful and lonely pandemic. As physical distancing rules came into effect, the internet served as both a tool for COVID-19-safe play and the site of the latest chapter of the puritan war against sex. Here, Xtra takes a closer look at the stories that shaped the way we thought about, talked about and had sex in 2020.
We experienced the great gloryhole renaissance
One of the more pleasant surprises this year was the resurgence of glory holes. The relics of shadowy gay hookups past entered the mainstream after several health officials, including some in British Columbia and New York, officially recommended they be used by those looking to limit face-to-face contact and practise more COVID-19-concious sex.
Glory hole use also got a digital update. Some queers relied on online scheduling systems that allowed users to set up appointments and receive helpful directions, updates and reminders over email. With many bars closed or operating at limited capacity, 2020 gave the queer community a chance to find a new type of favourite “hole in the wall.”
Sex toy sales spiked…
Staying in didn’t stop us from getting off. Starting in early March, sex toy sales soared as people, stuck at home with a lot more free time, took their sexual pleasure into their own toy-grasping hands.
From the first to the second week of March, Emojibator (which, yes, sells vibrators shaped like emojis) saw a 345 percent increase in online sales. The same month, sex toy creators Wow Tech Group saw a 263 percent increase in sales of their Womanizer clitoral stimulator toys. The sex toy market grew so rapidly that even BuzzFeed jumped on the marketing bandwagon, releasing their own sex toy in November.
Unfortunately, the rise in sales wasn’t equally advantageous across retailers. As the New York Times reported in June, brick-and-mortar sex shops—particularly those too small to purchase products from wholesalers—struggled to meet their pre-pandemic sales numbers.
…And so did porn consumption
By April, more Canadians were getting their kicks online. In the early lockdown days, Pornhub, the world’s largest online porn provider, noted upticks in daily usage rates compared to previous years in multiple regions. But some places were hornier than others: The week of April 6, Newfoundland and Labrador saw the biggest uptick, with a 29 percent increase in traffic compared to their average rate. New Brunswick experienced a 27 percent jump in the same period.
Perhaps grappling with the stress of being Canada’s COVID-19 epicenter in April, Montrealers only visited the site at a rate 7 percent higher than average during the second week of the month. The smallest bump was recorded in the smallest province: Prince Edward Island’s traffic rates rose by only 6 percent.
Of course, the attention Pornhub attracted this year wasn’t all positive. In December, PornHub removed all content uploaded by unverified users after an op-ed published in the New York Times alleged a significant presence of videos featuring child sexual abuse was hosted on the site. While the op-ed has been heavily criticized for its quoting of evangelical, anti-sex figures, porn performers have been advocating for the scrubbing of unverified content for years. Many unofficial accounts post stolen photos and footage, which prevents performers from monetizing their content. Unverified accounts have also notoriously posted revenge porn or other content without the subjects’ consent. (This month, 40 women launched a lawsuit against Mindgeek, Pornhub’s parent company, for publishing content without their consent.)
Facebook and Instagram launched puritan crackdowns on sexual content
The guidelines also ban “implicitly or indirectly” offering or asking for sexual solicitation with posts featuring “suggestive elements,” indicating that it’s not just sex workers whose content will be restricted. Our days of posting thirst traps or soliciting nudes may be numbered.
Some people learned the hard way not to multitask on Zoom
And by some people, we fully mean Jeffrey Toobin. In October, the 60-year-old legal analyst for both the New Yorker and CNN lowered his camera and exposed himself, touching his penis and blowing a kiss during a work call with several journalists. While Toobin’s show was meant for someone other than his colleagues, he immediately became a punchline on social media and several late-night talk shows. Toobin was fired from the New Yorker following an investigation into the incident (CNN has so far kept him on staff). After his sacking, an alarming number of men took to Twitter in his defense, seemingly admitting they felt it normal to jerk off in front of colleagues.
Thankfully, many others kept their Zoom time and private time separate. During a major Zoom outage that affected the east coast of the United States on August 24, Pornhub reported a 6 percent bump in traffic across the region.
OnlyFans was rife with drama
Unable to meet clients in person or work in clubs due to COVID-19 restrictions, many sex workers pivoted to OnlyFans, an adult content sharing platform. For most users, monthly earnings remained low in 2020. The average OnlyFans account earns about $180 a month.
In August, actress Bella Thorne faced backlash after she raked in $1 million in a single day on the platform. The former Disney star, who later said she joined the platform as an “experiment” for a documentary she was working on, also angered customers after charging $200 for “nudes” that ended up featuring her wearing lingerie. After many subscribers requested refunds—costing OnlyFans resources and processing fees—the company announced a number of changes. While creators could initially set their own fees with no limitations, the site now allows creators to charge a maximum of $50 for exclusive content and caps tips at $100. Facing a reduction in income, many sex workers spoke out against Thorne’s stunt and about the subsequent platform changes. In December, Thorne inexplicably doubled down on her supposed right to co-opt one of few remaining safe online spaces for sex workers. She posted a string of stories erroneously claiming she was the first celebrity to popularize OnlyFans.