Impacts of COVID-19 on sexual behaviour in Britain: findings from a large, quasi-representative survey (Natsal-COVID)

Mercer, C. H. et al. (2022) Impacts of COVID-19 on sexual behaviour in Britain: findings from a large, quasi-representative survey (Natsal-COVID). Sexually Transmitted Infections, 98(7), pp. 469-477. (doi: 10.1136/sextrans-2021-055210) (PMID:34916335) (PMCID:PMC8687784)

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Objectives: Physical restrictions imposed to combat COVID-19 dramatically altered sexual lifestyles but the specific impacts on sexual behaviour are still emerging. We investigated physical and virtual sexual activities, sexual frequency and satisfaction in the 4 months following lockdown in Britain in March 2020 and compared with pre-lockdown. Methods: Weighted analyses of web panel survey data collected July/August 2020 from a quota-based sample of 6654 people aged 18–59 years in Britain. Multivariable regression took account of participants’ opportunity for partnered sex, gender and age, to examine their independent associations with perceived changes in sexual frequency and satisfaction. Results: Most participants (86.7%) reported some form of sex following lockdown with physical activities more commonly reported than virtual activities (83.7% vs 52.6%). Altogether, 63.2% reported sex with someone (‘partnered sex’) since lockdown, three-quarters of whom were in steady cohabiting relationships. With decreasing relationship formality, partnered sex was less frequently reported, while masturbation, sex toy use and virtual activities were more frequently reported. Around half of all participants perceived no change in partnered sex frequency compared with the 3 months pre-lockdown, but this was only one-third among those not cohabiting, who were more likely to report increases in non-partnered activities than those cohabiting. Two-thirds of participants perceived no change in sexual satisfaction; declines were more common among those not cohabiting. Relationship informality and younger age were independently associated with perceiving change, often declines, in sexual frequency and satisfaction. Conclusions: Our quasi-representative study of the British population found a substantial minority reported significant shifts in sexual repertoires, frequency and satisfaction following the introduction of COVID-19 restrictions. However, these negative changes were perceived by some more than others; predominantly those not cohabiting and the young. As these groups are most likely to experience adverse sexual health, it is important to monitor behaviour as restrictions ease to understand the longer term consequences, including for health services.

Item Type:Articles
Additional Information:Funding: The Natsal Resource, which is supported by a grant from the Wellcome Trust (212931/Z/18/Z), with contributions from the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) and National Institute for Health Research (NIHR), supports the Natsal-COVID study in addition to funding from the UCL COVID-19 Rapid Response Fund and the MRC/CSO Social and Public Health Sciences Unit (Core funding, MC_UU_00022/3; SPHSU18).
Glasgow Author(s) Enlighten ID:Mitchell, Professor Kirstin and Boso Perez, Ms Raquel and Riddell, Miss Julie
Authors: Mercer, C. H., Clifton, S., Riddell, J., Tanton, C., Freeman, L., Copas, A. J., Dema, E., Boso Perez, R., Gibbs, J., Macdowall, W., Menezes, D., Ridge, M.-C., Bonell, C., Sonnenberg, P., Field, N., and Mitchell, K. R.
College/School:College of Medical Veterinary and Life Sciences > School of Health & Wellbeing > MRC/CSO SPHSU
Journal Name:Sexually Transmitted Infections
Publisher:BMJ Publishing Group
ISSN (Online):1472-3263
Published Online:16 December 2021
Copyright Holders:Copyright © 2021 The Authors
First Published:First published in Sexually Transmitted Infections 98(7): 469-477
Publisher Policy:Reproduced under a Creative Commons License
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Project CodeAward NoProject NamePrincipal InvestigatorFunder's NameFunder RefLead Dept
3048230031Relationships and healthKirstin MitchellMedical Research Council (MRC)MC_UU_00022/3HW - MRC/CSO Social and Public Health Sciences Unit
3048230081Relationships and healthKirstin MitchellOffice of the Chief Scientific Adviser (CSO)SPHSU18HW - MRC/CSO Social and Public Health Sciences Unit