The year in love and sex

6 stories that defined the way we loved and lusted in 2021

Lockdowns, curfews and general anxiety about standing less than two metres away from each other meant that 2021 was yet another year marked by separation. Even the online sphere wasn’t safe: a growing swell of puritanical influence made the internet a more dangerous place for both sex workers looking to support themselves and civilians who wanted to express their sexuality online alike. Still, LGBTQ2S+ folks found ways to connect, play and fight back. Here are some of the biggest stories that shaped how we loved and lusted this year. 

Financial institutions and payment processors joined the porn wars

This year, Mastercard announced a new policy intended to curb exploitative adult content. The rules have raised alarms amongst sex workers and sex worker advocates, however. In order for sites to receive payments via Mastercard, websites must now review all adult content they host prior to publication. According to Mastercard’s website, the policy also dictates that sellers present “documented age and identity verification for all people depicted and those uploading the content.” The new rules present serious privacy issues for those who can’t or do not wish to share their identification with sites. And many sites with large volumes of content would rather ban explicit content altogether than perform these impossible tasks. 

The effects of this financial discrimination are already being felt across the porn industry. This year, several porn sites, including Xtube, AVN and GayVN, have effectively shuttered, the latter citing “banking discrimination” as the primary cause of their demise. 

These closures can cause extreme financial distress for sex workers as they take away an important revenue source, especially as the pandemic continues to force more workers online. 

Our porn viewing habits got just a little more wholesome

While some of us wanted to get off this year, some of us just wanted to be loved—and that was reflected in the porn we sought out. 

Every year, Pornhub releases a detailed summary of trends pulled from its own search data. In 2021, they found a lot of the usual (everyone still loves lesbians, hentai and MILFs) but also noticed some unexpected terms jumped in popularity. Perhaps motivated by lockdown loneliness, searches for “romance” and “romantic” more than doubled, while searches for the term “passionate” grew by 139 percent. Among gay men, searches for “bromance” skyrocketted by 288 percent. 

OnlyFans pulled a dramatic 180

For five whole days this fall, OnlyFans seemed ready to run itself into the ground. Performers and subscribers alike were shocked to learn in September, that the subscription service—most commonly used as a amateur porn platform—planned to ban sexually explicit content. 


The news was met with anger from sex workers who felt the site had built its popularity on their backs, just to cast them out. Advocates also raised concerns that the ban would remove yet another COVID-19-safe income stream for those doing sex work online. OnlyFans co-founder, Tim Stokely, blamed the decision on banks, saying they were unwilling to keep working with the platform. 

Less than a week after the big announcement, OnlyFans reversed course, saying they’d managed to secure a deal with payment processors that allowed them to maintain business as usual—good news for adult content creators, and likely also the platform’s bottom line. 

Gindr updated its community guidelines to allow more butts 

While most dating apps and social media platforms have cracked down on nudity and sexual content in recent years, Grindr took a different tact in October when it released a post on its official blog explaining it was updating its community guidelines to allow users to post butt pics. The company described the move as “a critical step towards our mission of allowing the Grindr community to express themselves more freely.”

The app wasn’t willing to give users absolute freedom, however. “Graphic” and “pornographic” photos remain banned, as well as those depicting full-frontal nudity—a choice some may find fruitless, given the content of most opening messages on the app. 

Grindr was equally unwilling to provide its users with privacy this year. This month, the app was hit with a 6.3 million euro (over $9 million CAD) fine by Norwegian regulators after it was revealed that it had shared user data with advertisers without users’ consent. 

It was another big year for same-sex marriage legalization 

The pandemic didn’t slow down marriage equality activists this year, as two more countries joined the ever-growing list of nations that have legalized same-sex unions. 

In December 2021, Chile’s president signed a marriage equality bill into law. While same-sex civil unions have been legal in the country since 2015, this new law will also allow for expanded recognition of parental and adoption rights for married same-sex couples. 

In the same month, Switzerland (where same-sex domestic partnerships have been recognized since 2007) government officials voted to legalize same-sex marriage alongside a bill that facilitates the process of legal name and gender changes for people over the age of 16. 

We had a #HotVaxSummer… sorta 

As most adults in the U.K., the U.S. and Canada got access to COVID-19 vaccines this spring, the internet lit up with speculation that a sexy summer free for all was imminent. After having been isolated for more than a year, everyone was ready to resume the age-old tradition of spitting in each other’s mouths once they’d built up adequate immunity—in theory.

In practice, not so much. While stories about the impending hookup boom popped up quickly, they were just as rapidly replaced by think pieces about how almost no one was actually having sex once the Delta variant began circulating. 

And pandemic stress took its toll on our libidos. A survey of 2,000 Americans released this month found that more than half of respondents between the ages of 18 and 35 experienced sexual difficulties—from low sexual interest, mismatched sex drives and trouble orgasming—during what was meant to be the great slutty renaissance.

The survey did find that the pandemic helped to bolster the sex lives of one group of respondents, however: couples. Forty-two percent of coupled respondents reported more satisfying sex lives over the course of the pandemic compared to only 20 percent of singles. 

Ziya Jones

Ziya Jones is the senior editor, health at Xtra.

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