The first quarter of 2009 was one of the worst on record for car dealers, airlines, retailers, and Brooke*, 24, a paralegal in Texas. In January she and her boyfriend called it quits. In February she was pink-slipped. And in March she was forced to move out of the apartment she could no longer afford. So when a friend in Austin invited her to the city’s annual music festival that month, she had a natural response: “I was like, ‘Fuck it—I need to get laid!’ and hopped in my car,” she says. Less than 24 hours later, she made good on her mission: “I saw a drummer onstage and said ‘I want that.’ After his set I weaseled next to him in line for the bathroom, and he came in with me just long enough to slip a hand up my skirt, push my panties aside, and do me from behind.” Over the next few days, a tour manager followed (“in his hotel suite Jacuzzi”), as did a local bartender (“in his stock room—so dirty”). And so began Brooke’s new career as a full-time sex goddess.
If you’re looking for the upside of the economic downturn, here it is: Women are horny as hell. You’d think that living in perpetual dread of being laid off would make our libidos shrink like our 401(k)s. Paradoxically, though, this acute anxiety may have the opposite effect. “Fear elevates dopamine levels,” says biolog-ical anthropologist Helen Fisher, Ph.D. “For some people, going through a traumatic experience can actually stimulate their sex drives.” Circumstantial evidence backing up that claim: Condom sales ballooned by five percent at the end of last year. There’s even been a spike in online sex ads. Postings in Craigslist’s “casual encounters” leaped from 1.4 million in October 2007 to 3.1 million in October 2008. A typical one from a female poster: “Down in the dumps during this recession, layoffs at work, more stressful at my job, weather sucks…is there any cute, down-to-earth, d/d-free guy out there willing to let me forget about all this BS for a night?”
This heightened craving for sexual release reminds Trina, 30, a graphic designer, of the apocalyptic “grab someone and screw them while you can” mentality that was prevalent post-9/11. “I’m letting myself have a lot more fun,” she says, adding that by March she’d been with more guys than she would in a typical 12 months. “All this depressing news just makes you want a human connection—and sex is definitely the easiest way to get it.” So if you’ve been laid off and are moping around licking your wounds, take note: It’s time to get out of the breadline and back in the game. The sex of your life could be right around the corner.
Misery Loves Company
According to the newly unemployed women I interviewed, their sudden freedom has liberated more than just their schedules. The week after Bonnie, 23, was let go from her job at a Web site, day-drinking with friends led to her first-ever one-afternoon stand. “When we woke up afterward, at 5 p.m., I was a little mortified,” she says. “But the sex was amazing.”
Of course, unemployment lines aren’t the only places to find raging female libidos; one could be in the next cube. Alexis, a 27-year-old financial analyst in New York, was working 15-hour days last fall after her department had been downsized to just two people. But the high-stress situation led her to crunch more than numbers with her coworker. “We were so tense that we just snapped one night,” she says. “We ended up having sex under my desk in my office. He had to cover my mouth so the cleaning lady wouldn’t hear me moaning.”
In fact, dozens of women I talked to across the country report relying on sexual healing more than ever these days. Think about it: As stress relievers go, it’s a hell of a lot cheaper than meds, the gym, or a shrink—and may even be more effective. Stuart Brody, Ph.D., a professor of psychology at the University of The West of Scotland, has found that people experience less tension and better moods for a full 24 hours after intercourse. That’s right, masturbation doesn’t produce the same effect—meaning there’s never been a better time to offer a woman your services.
Paupers Over Princes
A side effect of all this horniness: Many women are sleeping with men they wouldn’t have looked twice at before. Taryn, 31, took a chance on Darius, a guy she’d previously kicked to the friend zone. “We used to rent a ski house together, but this year that was out,” she says. So she hosted a party for her fellow renters and ended up commiserating with him about money woes. “One moment I’m telling him how much I’m going to miss my big bay window if I’m forced to sell my apartment. The next, we’re having sex right in front of it. That’s something I could not have imagined doing a year ago.”
Another thing some women never saw themselves doing prerecession: their exes. But getting fired made Diana, 26, take a revisionist view of a colleague she’d dumped right before the market tanked. “Now I’m thinking: Shit, I have no job, no one to hunker down with—maybe Andrew wasn’t that bad,” she says. “I found him on LinkedIn to let him know I was looking for work.” His leads didn’t pan out, but a part-time hookup arrangement did.
It’s not that our standards are lower, really—just scaled down like everything else. Hell, at this point offering a girl a Snuggie and a box of wine could get you laid. “Before the recession, I wouldn’t consider going out with any guy who made less than $200,000 a year,” says 22-year-old Liz. (She didn’t have to—she’s a model.) “But now that everyone is broke, I’d rather just be with someone I click with physically and mentally.” Julia, a 27-year-old masseuse, actually prefers out-of-work guys. “They end up being better in bed,” she says. Her theory: “Unemployment seems to refocus a man’s priorities—no longer the big winner at the sales conference? Might as well be one in the bedroom.”
Women are so sympathetic to your cause, in fact, that some of us might even let you get away with more bad behavior than in the past. For example, a year ago we might have called bullshit on the “can’t commit, my life is too crazy” line. But it’s a pretty bulletproof excuse today…so much so that we’re even using it ourselves. “I’m doing the job of three other people right now, plus my own,” says Linda, 33, an overworked attorney. When her fuck buddy wanted to upgrade her to girlfriend status in January, she declined. “I have limited hours to spend spooning with you or eating Sunday dinners with your parents. I just need someone who’s ready to go when I say so.”
Into the Wild
The best news of all? The economic crisis has women craving not just more sex but crazier sex than ever before. Among the girls I polled, threesomes, S&M-lite, and sex with strangers topped the list of “now or never” acts they’ve boldly initiated in recent months. “Now that people realize they have to live in the moment, many women are asking to be more experimental in bed,” says Amy Levine, sex educator and founder of sexedsolutions.com.
Vanessa, 25, fled L. A. for her folks’ basement in Springfield, Missouri after work as an assistant producer in films dried up. The miserable situation soon had her seeking adventure. “It’s like I’m 16 again—I’ll take any excuse to get out of my parents’ house and fuck a guy in the backseat of his car or at the park,” she says.
For Tess, 27, the recession unearthed a closet kink she shared with a coworker. “I’d always fantasized about a sex-on-the-copy-machine scenario with Dave,” she says, “but I didn’t want to screw up my career.” That changed when she was transferred to another branch hit by layoffs. She knew she could finally consummate the crush—but she had no idea how dirty things would get. “He has this distinguished older gentleman thing going on, so at one point I slipped and called him Daddy,” she says. “I thought, Crap, he’s going to think I’m some perv. But his eyes totally lit up!”
So the next time you’re freaking over a relentless stream of woeful cable-news tickers—“8.9 percent unemployment! Millions in foreclosure! The end is near!”—remember this: There’s still plenty of good stuff going on; it’s just happening behind closed doors. It’s up to you to make sure yours is one of them.