How are our sex lives changing in the context of the pandemic? A new research study explores.
By Dr Becky Spelman
The study, ‘COVID-19 social distancing and sexual activity in a sample of the British Public,’ was authored by Louis Jacob et al and published in the latest edition of The Journal of Sexual Medicine. It explores how Britons’ sex lives have changed since the pandemic and the lockdown.
Most of us have been at home much more than before. Since March 23rd, we’ve all been told to stay at home as much as we can, and only to leave for a limited number of vital reasons. This is a clear challenge to our mental health: human beings are social animals, and for most of us, it is painfully difficult to be unable to enjoy social interactions with others. Being stuck in the house with just one or a few people, even people we love dearly, can also pose its own challenges and problems.
For those who are not in a long-term relationship with someone they live with, opportunities to engage in sexual behaviour are clearly limited to online and solo acts. Those who are lucky enough to be confined with a sexual partner may find that the tensions and stress of the current situation, combined with the fact that they never get a break from one another, is having a negative impact on their sex life too.
The authors of the study carried out a survey online, asking adults in the UK how often they had engaged in sexual behaviour (with someone else) since the lockdown started. They found out that 40% of the sample said that they had engaged in sexual activity at least once a week, to an average of 1.75 times per person. Being a man, consuming alcohol, and being married or in a long-term live-in relationship were all associated with engaging in sexual behaviour more often. The authors of the study believe that, for these people, having sex is likely to have been a useful, positive way to deal with anxiety-inducing factors such as stress and boredom.
However, a full 60% of the people surveyed had not been engaging in sexual activity at all–and therefore were not benefitting from the wide range of physical and mental health benefits associated with it. While some people turn to sexual behaviour for comfort and as a way to calm down, others find that their libido drops in response to stress. Moreover, all those adults who are not in cohabiting relationships are currently cut off from opportunities to meet others—many are not seeing any regular partners they may have, and casual hook-ups from online apps such as Tinder are currently out of the question.
The authors of the study suggest that adults should seek out healthy sexual contact as a way of mitigating the potential negative effects of lockdown, and even suggest that promoting sexual health should be part of any interaction designed to reduce the dangerous psychological impacts of isolation. This might include making a positive effort to have sex with a regular partner with whom we co-habit, masturbation and fantasy, and using online technology to connect creatively with partners.
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Louis Jacob MD1,∗Lee Smith PhD2,∗Laurie Butler PhD3, Yvonne Barnett PhD4, Igor Grabovac MD, PhD5, Daragh McDermott PhD6, Nicola Armstrong PhD7, Anita Yakkundi PhD8, Mark A.Tully PhD9, “COVID-19 Social Distancing and Sexual Activity in a Sample of the British Public”. The Journal of Sexual Medicine. Retrieved from https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1743609520306081
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