online dating

How COVID-19 is changing dating and sex for Torontonians

Apps are embracing the virtual experience but not all daters are on board

Dr. JessJess O’Reilly is a sought-after speaker, author and sexologist (www.SexWithDrJess.com).


Over the past few months, everything has changed, we’ve adapted to our new normal, and dating and sex are no exception.

For some, ramping up their dating efforts has come naturally as they find themselves with more time on their hands.

“I’ve never had so much fun with it,” says Naduya, a 42-year-old dater from just north of Toronto. Tinder offers the passport feature, which lets me browse and swipe all over the world. I’m chatting with one guy in Italy, another in Romania, and my favourite one right now is in St. Lucia. He knows how to talk dirty like it’s nobody’s business.”

Part of the allure for folks like Naduya is the thrill of the unknown.

“I may never meet them. Of course, I want to right now, but when this is all over, we may go our separate ways. Who knows? But the hottest part is making plans that we may never keep. I never would have thought of dating long distance, but I think I’ll be way more open to it when things return to normal,” she says.

Others are proceeding with more caution. Newly single Celine says the pressure to meet up in person turned her right off of online dating.

“The number of guys downtown who still want to hook up with strangers in person is pretty frightening. At first, I was blocking them, but now I’ve decided to take a break. It’s just too much stress, and I find myself getting defensive when they put the pressure on. It’s not a great place to be in when you’re trying to make a real connection,” she says.

As a first-time online dater, she says she already feels turned off by the whole experience.

Younger clients are embracing the concept of online meetings and finding them just as fulfilling as in-person dating. It follows that apps are creating more immersive experiences beyond text and video to include live online events.

League Live, for example, allows you to go on three-minute speed dates with users who meet your geographical and dating preferences. In under 10 minutes, you video chat with three potential mates, and the app reports that matches are three times higher via this format versus regular app usage.

Matchmakers are also getting in on the game to combine their more personalized approach with online events. Toronto-based Carmelia Ray hosts a Singles Quarantine Happy Hour every Tuesday for members of Censio.love, a matchmaking app for relationship-minded singles who are focused on dating one person at a time.

And whereas apps like Zepeel have been emphasizing the value of video in online dating for years, the big names are finally catching on.

Bumble, which launched its video feature last year, has added updates, including a profile badge that indicates that you’re open to virtual video dates, a voice note function and the Question Game, which provides fun and flirty questions to help you to get to know one another online.

Some apps have even emerged in response to the pandemic itself, including Quarantine Together, which is already at its matching capacity. This simple app asks you if you’ve washed your hands and practised physical distancing each day, and if you respond affirmatively, it sends you a match with whom you can text and eventually video chat.

Sex has also changed since the onset of the global pandemic. Online consults for sexual issues have become the norm (in Canada via GetMaple.ca) and sex education webinars (for both kids and adults) have never been so plentiful. Whether you want to learn about how to talk to your kids about porn, decolonize sex education, boost your sexual self-esteem or master the art of dominance, Toronto-based sex educators like Nadine Thornhill and Luna Matatas have you covered.

When it comes to retail, Good For Her on Harbord Street reports that its online business is fuelled by folks looking to connect sexually whether they’re living together or apart (via app-enabled toys).

As Torontonians explore their kinks and digital options for sex, discussion of risk is now par for the course — a change that I hope will help to de-stigmatize conversations around safer sex. If we can talk about hand washing, wearing masks and physical distancing with total strangers, hopefully we’ll continue the conversation with our lovers to discuss STIs, condom use and regular testing — a sexual silver lining that hopefully will outlast the time of the coronavirus.

Article exclusive to TRNTO