- 27 March 2023
- Journal article
Sexual and reproductive health in Britain during the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic: cross-sectional population survey (Natsal COVID Survey 2) and national surveillance data
- Sexually Transmitted Infections
Objectives: To assess sexual behaviour, and sexual and reproductive health (SRH) outcomes, after 1 year of the COVID-19 pandemic in Britain.
Methods: 6658 participants aged 18–59 and resident in Britain completed a cross-sectional web-panel survey (Natsal-COVID-Wave 2, March-April 2021), 1 year after the first lockdown. Natsal-COVID-2 follows the Natsal-COVID-Wave 1 survey (July-August 2020) which captured impacts in the initial months. Quota-based sampling and weighting resulted in a quasi-representative population sample. Data were contextualised with reference to the most recent probability sample population data (Natsal-3; collected 2010–12; 15 162 participants aged 16–74) and national surveillance data on recorded sexually transmitted infection (STI) testing, conceptions, and abortions in England/Wales (2010–2020). The main outcomes were: sexual behaviour; SRH service use; pregnancy, abortion and fertility management; sexual dissatisfaction, distress and difficulties.
Results: In the year from the first lockdown, over two-thirds of participants reported one or more sexual partners (women 71.8%; men 69.9%), while fewer than 20.0% reported a new partner (women 10.4%; men 16.8%). Median occasions of sex per month was two. Compared with 2010–12 (Natsal-3), we found less sexual risk behaviour (lower reporting of multiple partners, new partners, and new condomless partners), including among younger participants and those reporting same-sex behaviour. One in 10 women reported a pregnancy; pregnancies were fewer than in 2010–12 and less likely to be scored as unplanned. 19.3% of women and 22.8% of men were distressed or worried about their sex life, significantly more than in 2010–12. Compared with surveillance trends from 2010 to 2019, we found lower than expected use of STI-related services and HIV testing, lower levels of chlamydia testing, and fewer conceptions and abortions.
Conclusions: Our findings are consistent with significant changes in sexual behaviour, SRH, and service uptake in the year following the first lockdown in Britain. These data are foundational to SRH recovery and policy planning.
Mitchell, K., Willis, M., Dema, E., Baxter, A., Connoly, A., Riddell, J., Bosó Pérez, R., Clifton, S., Gibbs, J., Tanton, C., Geary, R., Ratna, N., Mohammed, H., Unemo, M., Bonell, C., Copas, A., Sonnenberg, P., Mercer, C. & Field, N. 2023, 'Sexual and reproductive health in Britain during the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic: cross-sectional population survey (Natsal COVID Survey 2) and national surveillance data', Sexually Transmitted Infections. http://dx.doi.org/10.1136/sextrans-2022-055680
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