New research reveals how lockdown changed our sex lives

  • Monday, March 29, 2021

University of Roehampton Sociologist collaborates with Bournemouth University to explore changes in sexual desires and behaviours during the pandemic

Image - New research reveals how lockdown changed our sex lives

New research has revealed how the Covid-19 pandemic has affected our sex lives, with changes in sexual desires and behaviours due to the lockdown restrictions.

The research led by Bournemouth University in collaboration with University of Roehampton, published in the Journal of Sex Research, found that women showed a significant reduction in levels of sexual desire during lockdown.

The research also found that participants engaged in less sexual behaviours – including masturbation, porn, sex with a partner and using technology for sex – during lockdown, but that men reported significantly more sexual activities than women, and LGB people significantly more than heterosexuals.

The research was led by Dr Liam Wignall, a Lecturer in Psychology at Bournemouth University, alongside Professor of Sociology at the University of Roehampton, Mark McCormack, who surveyed 565 young adults in the UK at the peak of lockdown restrictions.

Dr Wignall said:

“All the guidelines since March last year have restricted social interactions and de facto criminalised casual sexual activity.

“We can argue from our data that most people seemed to be following lockdown rules, with a significant drop in sexual behaviours across the board.

“However, there was an impact on wellbeing, with women who desired casual sex reporting a significant negative impact on their wellbeing. LGB people with high levels of sexual desire during lockdown also reported a greater perceived impact of lockdown on their wellbeing.”

Dr Wignall added that there are implications for sexual and reproductive health services, which have been limited during the lockdown - leading to reduced access to services and support for issues including sexual transmitted infections and unwanted pregnancy.

There is also the need to prepare for the easing of restrictions, which may lead to an increase in sexual activity.

“Much greater recognition of the impact of lockdown restrictions on sexuality is needed, with consideration given to how social policy can minimise risk in sexual encounters without effectively banning them for extended periods of time,” Dr Wignall said.

“Given the drop in sexual behaviours found in our study, it may be that sexual behaviours increase when restrictions are eased – measures need to be put in place to deal with this.”

Mark McCormack, Professor of Sociology at the University of Roehampton commented:

"Our research shows that lockdown had a real impact on young adults’ sex lives and sexual desires, not least engaging in fewer sexual activities in general. It highlighted important differences according to gender and sexual orientation. For example women, lesbian, gay and bisexual young adults reported lockdown had a much greater negative impact on their sense of wellbeing which requires further attention. The de facto criminalisation of casual sex due to social restrictions has received little attention from policymakers over the past year, this will need to be addressed as we move out of lockdown and consider the consequences related to sexual health and the potential for a marked increase in casual sex over the summer this year."

The full research paper, published by the Journal of Sex Research, can be found here.