Balancing risk, intimacy and (non)compliance: a qualitative study of sex across household during COVID-19 social restrictions

Maxwell, K. J., Bosó Pérez, R. , Reid, D., Freeman, L., Menezes, D., Sonnenberg, P., Field, N. and Mitchell, K. R. (2022) Balancing risk, intimacy and (non)compliance: a qualitative study of sex across household during COVID-19 social restrictions. Culture, Health and Sexuality, (doi: 10.1080/13691058.2022.2078507) (PMID:35674048) (Early Online Publication)

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Abstract

Government controls over intimate relationships, imposed to limit the spread of Sars-CoV-2, were unprecedented in modern times. This study draws on data from qualitative interviews with 18 participants in Natsal-COVID, a quasi-representative web-panel survey of the British population (n = 6,654 people), reporting that they had sex with someone from outside their household in the preceding four weeks; a period in which contact between households was restricted in the UK. Whilst only 10% of people reported sexual contact outside their household, among single people and those in non-cohabiting relationships, rates were much higher (Natsal-COVID). Our findings show that individuals did not take decisions to meet up with sexual partners lightly. Participants were motivated by needs—for connection, security, intimacy and a sense of normality. People balanced risks—of catching COVID-19, social judgement and punishment for rule-breaking—against other perceived risks, including to their mental health or relationships. We used situated rationality and social action theories of risk to demonstrate that people weighed up risk in socially situated ways and exhibited complex decision-making when deciding not to comply with restrictions. Understanding motivations for non-compliance is crucial to informing future public health messaging which accounts for the needs and circumstances of all population members.

Item Type:Articles
Keywords:Risk behaviour, sexual behaviour, COVID-19, pandemic restrictions.
Status:Early Online Publication
Refereed:Yes
Glasgow Author(s) Enlighten ID:Bosó Pérez, Raquel and Mitchell, Professor Kirstin and Maxwell, Dr Karen
Authors: Maxwell, K. J., Bosó Pérez, R., Reid, D., Freeman, L., Menezes, D., Sonnenberg, P., Field, N., and Mitchell, K. R.
College/School:College of Medical Veterinary and Life Sciences > School of Health & Wellbeing > General Practice and Primary Care
College of Medical Veterinary and Life Sciences > School of Health & Wellbeing > MRC/CSO SPHSU
Journal Name:Culture, Health and Sexuality
Publisher:Taylor & Francis
ISSN:1369-1058
ISSN (Online):1464-5351
Published Online:08 June 2022
Copyright Holders:Copyright © 2022 The Authors
First Published:First published in Culture, Health and Sexuality 2022
Publisher Policy:Reproduced under a Creative Commons License

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Project CodeAward NoProject NamePrincipal InvestigatorFunder's NameFunder RefLead Dept
3048231Relationships and healthKirstin MitchellMedical Research Council (MRC)MC_UU_00022/3HW - MRC/CSO Social and Public Health Sciences Unit
3048231Relationships and healthKirstin MitchellOffice of the Chief Scientific Adviser (CSO)SPHSU18HW - MRC/CSO Social and Public Health Sciences Unit