COVID-19 led to less sex for cohabitating Canadian couples: research

VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) — If absence makes the heart grow fonder, the opposite is also true, according to a UBC researcher looking at the sexual behaviour of Canadians during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Dr. Lori Brotto, professor of obstetrics and gynaecology and executive director of the Women’s Health Research Institute, explains that over 1,000 Canadians were surveyed in the study between April and August of 2020.

Early speculation posited a baby boom due to cooped up couples with more time on their hands. Brotto says while that prediction clearly did not come true, there are a number of other factors to consider when looking at how human sexual behaviour was shaped by an unprecedented global crisis.

One clear finding from the research was that a particular subset of couples was most likely to be having the least sex.

“Interestingly, sexual behaviour really depended on whether a person lived with a partner or not,” she says.

“For individuals in a relationship who did not live with a partner, their sexual activity actually increased. Whereas those who lived with a partner over the course of the pandemic, their sexual activity decreased.”

Stress levels also tended to correlate with less sexual activity among cohabitating couples.

“Increasing stress in relationships related to the pandemic that very likely translated into direct effects on sexual activity for many of those couples who were living with their partner, perhaps in confined spaces where both are working from home,” she says.

“Specifically we measured COVID-related stress of worries about finances, worries about social interactions, concerns about family that we’re living away, and also stress of a relationship.”


Interestingly, the decrease in sexual activity could not simply be linked to a drop in libido.

“Libido and behaviour don’t always go hand in hand. What we found was that desire for a partner, actually did decrease over the course of the pandemic whereas desire for solitary sexual activity really didn’t see that much of a change,” Brotto says.

“At the end of the day, it becomes most important to really look at behaviour because desire can be affected by so many other things.”

Brotto also says advice on safer sex remains important even as case counts go down, and restrictions are lifted.

“People are getting vaccinated and they’re returning to their social interactions, maybe increasing their amount of hookups, and sexual activity with new partners,” she explains.

“We might see an increase in desire as people are excited to be returning to their pre-pandemic social interaction. It’s really an opportunity for us to take a health promotion approach, ans have those conversations about how to do that in a fun yet safe way.”

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