Bank accounts, retirement plans and department stores are taking a hit in the current financial crisis, but more people may be putting stock in love and sex. In November, dating Web site Match.com experienced its largest membership growth since shortly after 9/11. Craigslist personals and eHarmony registrations each saw 20 percent increases last year.

A 2008 Opinion Research Corp. survey sponsored by eHarmony may provide clues as to why these sites have seen so much action lately: Singles who are anxious about the economic climate were 14 percent more likely to believe they would be in a committed, long-term relationship by the end of this year than those not concerned about the economy.

"Close relationships help people cope with stress, so we gravitate toward finding and maintaining them when times are tough," says Gian Gonzaga, PhD, a psychologist and senior research scientist at eHarmony Labs.

In addition to online dating, the business of sex may also be somewhat recession-proof. A Dec. 19 article on Forbes.com and a Jan. 8 story in The New York Times suggest lusty sales of vibrators and other sexual aids.

Clinical psychologist Judith B. Kuriansky, PhD, says that these days she's seeing more pleasure-seeking and pleasure-avoidance reactions among clients.

"People are either saying, 'Well, the rest of my life is falling apart so I might as well experience some pleasure,' or 'Let me just crawl in bed and pull the covers over my head because I'm depressed and don't feel sexual at all,'" she says.

For psychologists, these reactions indicate an increasing need for research and clinical interventions to ensure people deal with their anxiety in a healthy way, Kuriansky notes.

"Our entire social system—sexually and from a dating perspective—has been changing and will continue to change as more warnings come out about the increasingly dire situation of the economy," Kuriansky says.

—A. Novotney