Sex buddies and social bubbles: is this really the 'new normal'?

The ways the rest of the world is emerging from lockdown signal some of the weirdness we can expect in SA, writes Jess Brodie

12 July 2020 - 00:00 By jess brodie
For a Van Gogh exhibit in Toronto, Canada, the walls and floors of an industrial space have become the canvas onto which digital images of the artist's works are projected for the option of drive-in viewing.
For a Van Gogh exhibit in Toronto, Canada, the walls and floors of an industrial space have become the canvas onto which digital images of the artist's works are projected for the option of drive-in viewing.
Image: Steve Russell/Toronto Star via Getty Images

My neighbourhood is slowly opening up. After months of unlimited unclaimed parking space, slowly life is returning to Parkhurst in Johannesburg. While walking my dog on 4th (I know, I'm a cliché), I passed a burger joint where a woman was attempting to eat her chips by lifting each skinny French fry to her mouth and gingerly raising her mask with the other hand. I thought of Carrie Bradshaw in Abu Dhabi: "A lift for every fry, that's a major commitment to fried food."

It begs the bigger question though: is this how desperate people are to get out? Would you eat a plate of chips as gingerly as that woman for the chance to see your friends and feel "normal"? And should we expect more of that?

Around the world, as cities reopen in the northern hemisphere, and life begins to flourish once more, what is this "new normal" everyone is talking about and does it look like fun to you?


In Belgium, the government has reportedly been considering allowing people to form "social bubbles". Each bubble, of up to 10 people, could socialise together on the weekends, the caveat being that all the members of the bubble agree to see each other exclusively. Overlapping bubbles will not be allowed.

Should this be implemented, it would be the harbinger of a new kind of social awkwardness and anxiety closely related to the fear of leaving someone off your wedding guest list, or forgetting a loved one's birthday.

Social awkwardness aside, this approach seems rather risky given the fraught nature of testing, and the lack of available resources in some countries, including SA. Increasingly, however, sociologists are arguing that this kind of solution is a logical way to emerge from isolation. Limiting the number of people you spend time with naturally limits the chances of spreading Covid-19 more widely.

Keeping the current social distancing measures and the moratorium on visiting friends and family would be effective in containing the virus. But restrictive measures do have time limits, as people become fatigued with the social, economic and mental health impacts of such a radical reduction in social outlets.

Belgium has proposed allowing small groups of friends to gather provided they see each other exclusively.
Belgium has proposed allowing small groups of friends to gather provided they see each other exclusively.
Image: 123RF/rawpixel

Indeed, a study led by Oxford University sociologists is promoting a change in mindset. Instead of simply reducing the amount we socialise, we need to change the way our social networks are structured. Forcing people to stay at home indefinitely is not sustainable and has its own problems.

At the heart of the study is the idea that we need to make the paths upon which the virus travels longer. One way to frame it is by using the popular model of "six degrees of separation". What's being proposed here is that by limiting your social bubble to a handful of close friends, instead of unfettered socialising, the virus is less able to jump from degree to degree.


One of the things I miss the most is squeaking takkie. There is nothing quite like the thrill of loud, preferably live music, and losing yourself for a few hours while you shake out your bits. It seems like it will be an age until it's possible to go out again, but in some parts of the world, dancing is being reinvented.

Introducing social dis-dancing. Nightclubs in Queensland, Australia, opened last weekend for up to 100 revellers, with the caveat that they remain seated. Patrons will be able to get down by staying down because they are required to stay in their chairs. Much like the town from the '80s movie Footloose, there is no dancing allowed.

In the UK, the first socially distanced "unity arena" in Newcastle will welcome 2,500 fans for socially distanced open-air shows. Attendees will stand on viewing platforms placed 2m apart, with drinks available for pre-order. This kind of MacGyvering speaks to human ingenuity and our need for some reprieve. Like language, the roots of music may be in the inherent shared features of our social brain, allowing us to communicate with others.

I would welcome the chance to attend such an event, because my love of live music is marred by its crippling cousin, a hatred of crowds. This is an ideal solution, a pedestal from which to enjoy the revelling, without having to deal with fomites. I've always been grossed out by germs in a crowd, and thankfully now the world will be geared to support my neuroses.


As countries around the world slowly begin to come back to life, governments are experimenting with different techniques and tactics. Officials in the Netherlands have relaxed the government's guidance on sex during the coronavirus pandemic, advising that singles find "sex buddies".

Acknowledging that human touch is important, the guidance said the two parties must be in strict agreement about limiting the spread of the virus, by practising monogamy. The guidance advised that your "seksbuddy" should not be a random person, but preferably someone you know quite well, or have slept with before, or are in a relationship with.

All of the guidelines warn against kissing strangers, as one of the ways the virus is spread is through saliva

Denmark goes further, condoning even the most casual of encounters, their directive stating that sex is inherently good for you and that people should be having sex at this time.

The US is predictably a little less up for it, with most of its health guidelines saying "You are your safest sex partner". All of the guidelines warn against kissing strangers, as one of the ways the virus is spread is through saliva.

And all of this will come for us as well. Until then I encourage you to eschew the pressure to emerge from lockdown too fast. There's a lot of social media-noise about how to emerge from this as a beautiful, courageous, corona ass-kicking butterfly, freshly remade from at-home-workouts, Coursera-course certificates and low-carb diets.

Instead, I implore you to keep to small rituals, like reading the paper on a Sunday morning. Be kind to your people, watch reality TV, do as much ironing as you can manage. Phone your loved ones. Stay safe. Don't force it for French fries.


Switzerland: The maximum number of people allowed to attend indoor public gatherings was recently increased from 300 to 1,000 with no social distancing, according to a government site.

Netherlands: On June 24, the Dutch government increased the number of people allowed in indoor spaces from 30 to 100, provided guests have their own seats.

Belgium: New rules from this month allow venues to hold indoor events of up to 200 people, and outdoor events of up to 400 people.

Spain: Bars and clubs reopened on June 8. Dancing is not allowed because dance floors "should be used to install tables or groups of tables, and cannot be employed for its habitual use".

UK: From July 4 pubs and restaurants were allowed to reopen with limited capacity. Museums and galleries have reopened, but nightclubs and live music venues remain closed. Live Nation will host a series of drive-in concerts.

Nigeria: Last month social centres and clubs with mechanisms to abide by health regulations were issued "Provisional Safety Compliance Certificates" to reopen.

In Germany, indoor events cannot exceed 300 people.
In Germany, indoor events cannot exceed 300 people.
Image: 123RF/Dmitrii Shironosov

Germany: Outdoor events with more than 1,000 are banned until August 31, then the capacity limit is raised to 5,000 until October. Indoor events cannot exceed 300 people. Clubs, theatres and cultural sites are closed until July 31.

US: Reopening efforts in cities like New York and LA will be carried out in phases, with nightclubs and bars last. Ohio music festival company ESK Presents is suing state and county health officials over what it's calling a "baseless" ban on large events during the pandemic.

Australia: Nightclubs could be allowed to open in August with social distancing rules in place. Outdoor concert venues reopened this month at up to a quarter of their capacity, Pubs, restaurants and other hospitality venues have reopened.

New Zealand: Clubs and festivals have been able to operate without capacity limits.

Portugal: Seated concerts have restarted with venues operating at 50% capacity. Only guests from the same household may sit together.

Hong Kong: Clubs, karaoke bars and party rooms have opened, limited to eight people per group.

Italy: Live music events of up to 200 people indoors and 1,000 people outdoors returned last month, with assigned seating, and mask-wearing attendees sitting 1m apart.

France: Extended its ban on 5,000-capacity or larger events from mid-July to September 1. Some bars, restaurants and terraces have reopened.

China: Some clubs and bars have been permitted to open their doors.