Intimate relationships are ubiquitous and exert a strong influence on health. Widespread disruption to them may impact wellbeing at a population level. We investigated the extent to which the first COVID-19 lockdown (March 2020) affected steady relationships in Britain. In total, 6,654 participants aged 18–59 years completed a web-panel survey (July–August 2020). Quasi-representativeness was achieved via quota sampling and weighting. We explored changes in sex life and relationship quality among participants in steady relationships (n = 4,271) by age, gender, and cohabitation status, and examined factors associated with deterioration to a lower-quality relationship. A total of 64.2% of participants were in a steady relationship (of whom 88.9% were cohabiting). A total of 22.1% perceived no change in their sex-life quality, and 59.5% no change in their relationship quality. Among those perceiving change, sex-life quality was more commonly reported to decrease and relationship quality to improve. There was significant variation by age; less often by gender or cohabitation. Overall, 10.6% reported sexual difficulties that started/worsened during lockdown. In total, 6.9% reported deterioration to a ”lower quality” relationship, more commonly those: aged 18–24 and aged 35–44; not living with partner (women only); and reporting depression/anxiety and decrease in sex-life quality. In conclusion, intimate relationship quality is yet another way in which COVID-19 has led to divergence in experience.


This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/), which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.

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Mitchell, K., Shimonovich, M., Bosó Pérez, R., Dema, E., Clifton, S., Riddell, J., Copas, A., Tanton, C., Macdowall, W., Bonell, C., Sonnenberg, P., Mercer, C. & Field, N. 2022, 'Initial impacts of COVID-19 on sex life and relationship quality in steady relationships in Britain: findings from a large, quasi-representative survey (Natsal-COVID)', Journal of Sex Research. http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/00224499.2022.2035663

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Last updated: 02 November 2023
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