Health Care
June 11, 2021

6 Ways The Pandemic Impacted Our Sex Lives — And How We Can Bounce Back

COVID may have affected our sex lives in more ways than you think.
Written by
Ella Dorval Hall
Published on
June 11, 2021
Updated on
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The pandemic has impacted people’s sex lives and researchers want to know exactly how. Are they having less sex because of COVID? Are some people having more sex? Were people masturbating more during the pandemic? How will our sex lives change after the pandemic? While researchers have been trying to answer these questions and have come up with some interesting answers, many studies are still underway. In time, we’ll have more conclusive results. Still, for now, the findings are pretty interesting to look at. 

Here are six ways COVID has affected our sex lives, according to research. 

1. In some studies, people reported having less sex.

Even though some couples are spending more time together, they actually aren’t having as much sex as you might think. A 2021 study published in US National Library of Medicine

National Institutes of Health (NCBI) sampled 6,929 people from various countries, and found that participants were having over four times less sex during the pandemic. Researchers say this major decline is because of drastic life changes, the depression associated with these changes, and the perceived dangers of having sex during COVID. 

In another study published in Leisure Sciences: An Interdisciplinary Journal, 1,559 people were surveyed and nearly half of them said their sex life declined. In that same study, however, it was also found that younger participants, living alone, were more open to trying new sexual activities, such as sexting, new sex positions, and sharing fantasies.

2. Mental health also played a role in people’s declining sex life.

Our emotional state has a huge impact on our sexual desire. So, naturally, the depression that came along with COVID took a toll on people’s sex lives. A study titled “Sexual Desire in the Time of COVID-19” that was published in 2021 surveyed 4,993 people and found that the stress of COVID, such as financial stress, loneliness, and just general worry about COVID, caused people to feel more depressed. It was found that this depression led to lower sexual desire for their partner. 

But, depression wasn’t the only way that mental health impacted people’s sex lives. According to a study, published in IJIR: Your Sexual Medicine Journal, that sampled 245 people in Turkey, anxiety and stress also impacted people’s sexual functioning for the worse. As depression, anxiety, and stress increased, they found that sexual dysfunction increased too. 

3. Partners quarantining together also reported being less intimate.

There are lots of reasons that people, especially couples living together, were having less sex. A study conducted at Indiana State University (ISU) found that people who felt depressed or lonely, or people who were taking more COVID precautions, were less intimate. Interestingly, things like oral sex, touching each other’s genitals, or vaginal sex, weren’t the only types of intimacy these couples were doing less of. The study also found that they were hugging, cuddling, holding hands, and kissing less often too. Though the study does not pose potential reasons why this was the case. 

Researchers suspected that people with elementary-aged kids were probably being less intimate because they had to balance working from home and childcare when schools went virtual. 

4. On the flip side, some couples living together reported more sex.

Not everyone with kids were having less sex. Out of 113 people surveyed with children under the age of five surveyed by ISU, it was reported that people were actually having more partnered sex. Researchers hypothesized that “Parents of smaller children may be better able to maintain pre-pandemic schedules and routines (e.g. naptimes and/or earlier bedtimes) that free some consistent time for partnered sex.” 

ISU researchers found that 12.5 percent of people were having more sex. In the study titled “Sexual Desire in the Time of COVID-19,” it was also found that within the first month of the pandemic, some stressors, like financial concern and general worry, were actually associated with more sexual desire. However, when they surveyed these same people over time, they found that these stressors were later associated with less sexual desire. So, some people may have been feeling more turned on and ready for action at the beginning of COVID, but as these life changes, like a new routine and being at home with a partner, lost their appeal and became chronic stressors, they started to negatively impact peoples’ sexual desire. 

5. For some people, solo play seemed to increase.

The ISU study found that solo play increased for certain folks, but they may not be the people you expected. While some people may have been masturbating because social distancing kept them from hook ups, research also found that people with kids 6-12 years were actually masturbating with their partner more often. 

In the study done in Turkey, they found that men and women were masturbating more often during the pandemic than before the pandemic. And the ISU study found that people who felt depressed were actually three to four times more likely to masturbate.

6. COVID survivors may experience lasting symptoms that impact their sexual health.

Some studies found that COVID-19 can actually have lasting sexual and reproductive health impacts. While many long-term consequences of COVID are still unknown, this research has found that Erectile Dysfunction (ED) as well as testicular damage could be long-term symptoms. 

These researchers are finding that COVID can decrease testosterone, yet they are still investigating how this decrease in testosterone impacts the body. They do know that “the testis is a target for SARS-CoV-2” and can have lasting impacts, even for patients who have recovered. As for ED, they are still learning exactly how COVID is linked to ED, but are finding that COVID impacts the blood vessels in the penis and proper functioning of blood vessels is key for having an erection. 

How can we bounce back after the pandemic? 

Now that pandemic stay-at-home orders have been lifted, it appears people are getting on dating apps in the masses and eager to start their post-pandemic sex life. But, how will we navigate our COVID induced depression, anxiety, and shaky social skills when we’re trying out our flirting game

Dr. Amy E Keller, PsyD, a licensed marriage and family therapist, was quoted in VeryWellMind saying, “after living in a world that doesn't feel very trustworthy due to development of a pandemic, loss of jobs for thousands of people, racial unrest, and unsteady political times” we should “be sure to take it slow.” Do what feels comfortable to you. Meet in a place you feel safe, set up the date a few weeks in advance, tell a friend where you’re going and what you might be feeling anxious about. 

It can also be helpful to remember that you are not the only one who might be feeling a combination of nervous, excited, anxious, and stressed about hitting the dating scene again. Many other people have also been isolated, struggling to navigate sex for the past year and a half, and dealing with major life changes. 

If you feel awkward, nervous, or anxious, tell your date! It’s likely that they can relate to what you’re going through and it might take the pressure off if you don’t feel like you need to hide how you’re feeling. 

The bottom line

The pandemic has impacted all of us in various ways and it's likely that this transition back to being around more people will impact different people’s sex lives in different ways too. While our sex lives may have taken a hit during the pandemic, we can bounce back. Give yourself time, and as the world opens up and your stressors related to COVID are alleviated, you might find you’ll be more ready than ever to get it on.

Reviewed for Medical Accuracy

Ella Dorval Hall (she/they) is a white, eating disorder recover-er, sex and pleasure educator. She's worked at a national sexual health organization, Healthy Teen Network, training educators how to teach evidence-based sex education curriculums. Ella now hosts workshops, writes, and does 1:1 education that brings people the information and skills they need to actually enjoy sex. You can find more of Ella’s work on Instagram @unlearnings3x.

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