Will COVID Kill the Mood in the Olympic Village?

Sturdy, sex-positive cardboard bed or anti-sex booby trap? Photo-Illustration: by The Cut; Photos: Getty Images

The Olympics are upon us, historically a very horny time in sports: an extended, international sex romp that comes but once every two years. Thanks to a global pandemic, though, the 2020 Olympics (2021 edition) look different than usual: In an effort to avoid hosting a coronavirus superspreader event, the Tokyo Olympic Organizing Committee has decided not to allow any spectators to attend the games. COVID-19 cases are once again on the rise in Japan, where the circulation of the highly contagious Delta variant has ushered in a fourth state of emergency. Though the International Olympic Committee claims 80 percent of athletes have been vaccinated, the Japanese public remains strongly opposed to the Games, which have spawned at least 12 new infections since Sunday.

And yet, we will still be getting down to business on Friday, when the opening ceremony will kick off two weeks of aggressive programming — and potentially unprecedented sexual frustration, considering that our champions are coming off the double-barreled isolation of a pandemic and intensive training. The IOC appears to have taken tentative steps to keep a lid on all that pent-up energy, but is there any way to contain the force of over 10,000 high-powered libidos? Is that why competitors are being made to sleep on cardboard this year? Do we reasonably expect handing out fewer condoms to do the trick?

Let’s assess the situation.

I thought the Olympics were for sports?

The Olympics are for sports, yes, but the Olympic Village is for sex. We are talking about a giant dorm packed full of people who are all in incredible shape — the pinnacle of energy and stamina, in many cases — and, once their events wrap, have ample free time for partying. Since 1988, the IOC has made condoms freely available at the event, and previous Olympics have set Tinder accounts in the host city blazing. Take it from the Olympians themselves.

“I’ve never witnessed so much debauchery in my entire life,” American target shooter Josh Lakatos said of the Olympic Village in a 2012 ESPN interview. BMX medalist Jill Kintner recalled how the Italian athletes would leave their doors open, “so you look in and see dudes in thongs running circles around each other.” Meanwhile, alpine skier Carrie Sheinberg compared the atmosphere to “a magical fairy tale,” an Alice in Wonderland–esque environment where “everything is possible … You could win a gold medal and you can sleep with a really hot guy.”

But this year, things are shaping up to be distinctly less freaky — at least if the IOC has any say in the matter.

Has the IOC drafted official sex policy?

Though some governing bodies took it upon themselves to address sexual safety early on in the pandemic — recall the phase in which the New York City Department of Health promoted glory holes and open-air orgies — the IOC has not been so forthright. The official playbook for the Tokyo Games discourages attendees from spending time in “enclosed spaces” and engaging in unnecessary “physical contact,” specifically “hugs and handshakes.” Maybe Dick Pound & Co. are hoping that people will simply use their good judgment and make the desired inferences, which feels … uncommonly optimistic. Or maybe they are relying on other, sneakier means to discourage athlete-on-athlete friskiness.

What, are organizers … building sex hurdles into the Olympic landscape or something?

Some people suspect that they are, pointing to a discovery Olympians made upon arrival in the Olympic Village as Exhibit A: cardboard beds. TMZ’s headline wailed the same complaint — “deterrent for banging???” — that’s likely echoing through your brain space right now. Admittedly, the unusual bed design does look like a creative way to thwart horn’t up athletes, cardboard not being known for its load-bearing capacity. On Saturday, American runner Paul Chelimo fanned the flames of skepticism with a tweet speculating that organizers “aimed at avoiding intimacy among athletes,” as the cardboard could only “withstand the weight of a single person.”

On a common-sense level, Chelimo’s assessment checks out: Possibly you have planted yourself on a cardboard box at some point in your life, and felt it immediately crumple under your buns. But according to the New York Times, the planning committee insists that the flimsy-looking beds are intended to encourage sustainability (a company called Airweave built them using almost all renewable resources) rather than chastity, though organizers would still prefer that athletes didn’t bone. If they happen to, though, cardboard may actually be a surprisingly sturdy surface for intercourse. In a tweeted video, Irish gymnast Rhys McClenaghan put his bed to a stress test, jumping up and down on the mattress with gusto. Surprise, surprise, it held up! The official Olympics Twitter account thanks McClenaghan for his service:

Meanwhile, Airweave confirmed to the Times in a statement: “Cardboard beds are actually stronger than the one made of wood or steel.” Based on the above, they may actually be quieter, too — rather than belligerently squawking springs, you may only notice the gentle rustling of corrugated paper on carpet. How sensual.

Does anyone really think a certain type of bed, cardboard or no, will get in the way of a hookup?

Naturally, beds are not the only place people do sex, and as stated, the extremity of Olympic horniness has been cemented as fact at Games after Games. At the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, for example, organizers budgeted 42 condoms per athlete (450,000 total) for the two-week competition period. To ensure dispensers stayed stocked, they also hired designated rubber runners who roamed the Olympic Village with giant bags full of prophylactics slung across their torsos. Organizers’ sexual expectations for the 2018 Winter Games in Sochi were slightly more modest, at 37 condoms per athlete.

This year, however, the organizers will only be handing out 150,000 condoms, and for souvenir purposes only. “The distribution of condoms is not for use at the athletes’ village, but to have athletes take them back to their home countries to raise awareness” of HIV and AIDS issues, Tokyo 2020 told Reuters. Probably people will not adhere to these guidelines, but organizers have also banned the sale and consumption of alcohol at Olympic venues, in hopes of “prevent[ing] expansion of infection.” The San Francisco Chronicle also reports that athletes will be packed onto planes within 48 hours of wrapping their final event, minimizing opportunities to party in a mostly closed Tokyo. And if the logistics were not intimidating enough, the playbook warns, “The people of Japan will be paying close attention to your every move.” But will all that judgment be enough?

Will COVID Kill the Mood in the Olympic Village?