Abstract

Background: COVID-19 has impacted all aspects of life, including people’s sex lives, via experience of the disease and measures to prevent transmission. We examined sexual behaviour in Britain during the initial national ‘lockdown’ (≥23/3/2020) and compared this to the 3 months pre-lockdown. Methods: We analysed weighted web-panel survey data from a quota-based sample of 6,654 people in Britain. The questionnaire, fielded 29/7–10/8/2020, included questions about sexual activities pre- and during lockdown, and perceived changes in frequency between these timeframes. We used descriptive statistics and multivariable regression to examine independent associations with relationship status, age, gender, and health. Results: Altogether, 91.2% of sexually-experienced participants reported any sexual activity during lockdown; 85.7% reporting ‘in-person’/physical partnered activities. Around half reported no change in frequency of partnered-sex versus pre-lockdown, however, those not cohabiting were more likely than those cohabiting to report changes (75.6% versus 35.1%) – typically declines. Masturbation (62.0%) and virtual/digital activities (54.3%) were less commonly reported during lockdown, although they were more commonly reported in those not cohabiting versus cohabiting (69.2% versus 57.9%, 67.4% versus 46.7%, respectively). Changes in reported frequency of virtual/digital activities were more common (66.4%) than in-person activities, with increases as likely as declines, except for porn use, where twice as many perceived an increase than a decrease. After adjustment, those reporting a decline in sex were more likely to be: non-cohabiting (AOR:1.68,95%CI:1.45–1.95), aged <25 years (AOR:1.99,1.57–2.51), male (AOR:1.17,1.02–1.35), to report depressive/anxiety symptoms (AOR:1.63,1.41–1.89) or COVID symptoms/diagnosis (AOR:1.24,1.01–1.52). Conclusions: Most people reported some form of sex during lockdown and around half had not experienced changes in partnered-sex compared to pre-lockdown. However, considerable differences existed for certain populations (e.g. young people) that may exacerbate, or be exacerbated by, COVID-19’s wider detrimental effects on physical and mental health. This potential intersectionality needs consideration when designing individual and public health interventions.

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Copyright information: © Author(s) (or their employer(s)) 2021. No commercial re-use. See rights and permissions. Published by BMJ.

Cite as

Mercer, C., Clifton, S., Riddell, J., Tanton, C., Sonnenberg, P., Copas, A., Boso Perez, R., Macdowell, W., Menezes, D., Dema, E., Freeman, L., Ridge, M., Bonell, C., Field, N. & Mitchell, K. 2021, 'Early Impacts of the COVID-19 Pandemic on Sexual Behaviour in Britain: Findings From a Large, Quasi-Representative Survey (Natsal-COVID)', Sexually Transmitted Infections, 97((Suppl 1)), pp. A27-. http://dx.doi.org/10.1136/sextrans-2021-sti.78

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Last updated: 16 June 2022
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