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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)

22 Pages Posted: 8 Jun 2021

See all articles by Kirstin Rebecca Mitchell

Kirstin Rebecca Mitchell

University of Glasgow - MRC/CSO Social and Public Health Sciences Unit

Michal Shimonovich

University of Glasgow - MRC/CSO Social and Public Health Sciences Unit

Raquel Bosó Pérez

University of Glasgow - MRC/CSO Social and Public Health Sciences Unit

Emily Dema

University College London - Institute for Global Health

Soazig Clifton

University College London - Institute for Global Health

Julie Riddell

University of Glasgow - MRC/CSO Social and Public Health Sciences Unit

Andrew Copas

University College London - Institute for Global Health; University College London - Institute for Health Informatics

Clare Tanton

London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine

Wendy Macdowall

London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine

Chris Bonell

London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine

Pam Sonnenberg

University College London - Institute for Global Health

Catherine Heather Mercer

University College London - Institute for Global Health

Nigel Field

University College London - Institute for Global Health

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Abstract

Background: Intimate relationships are ubiquitous and exert 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. 

Methods: 6,654 participants aged 18-59 years completed a web-panel survey between 29/7-10/8/2020. Quasi-representativeness was achieved via quota sampling and weighting. We explored changes in sex life (5 dimensions) and relationship quality (6 dimensions) 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.

Results: 64.2% of participants were in a steady relationship, mostly cohabiting (88.8%).  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, but less often by gender or cohabitation. Overall, 10.6% reported sexual difficulties that started or worsened during lockdown. 6.9% reported deterioration to a ‘lower quality’ relationship, more commonly those: aged 18-24 (women only OR 2.38;1·39-4·08) and aged 35-44 (women OR1.63;1.03-2.56, men OR 2.31;1.45-3.66) compared with those aged 45-59; not living with partner (women only aOR 2.01;1.28-3.16); and reporting depression/anxiety (e.g., depression (women aOR 2.56;1.79-3.64, men aOR 3.06;2.02–4.63).

Interpretation: Intimate relationship quality is yet another way in which COVID-19 has led to divergence in experience, with age a key determinant of impact.

Funding Information: Natsal (Wellcome Trust/ESRC/NIHR), MRC/CSO, UCL COVID-19 Rapid Response Fund.

Declaration of Interests: The authors have no interests to declare.

Ethics Approval Statement: Ethical approval was obtained from the University of Glasgow MVLS College (20019174) and LSHTM research ethics committees (22565).

Keywords: COVID-19, steady relationship, sexual satisfaction, social support, relationship quality, sex life

Suggested Citation

Mitchell, Kirstin Rebecca and Shimonovich, Michal and Bosó Pérez, Raquel and Dema, Emily and Clifton, Soazig and Riddell, Julie and Copas, Andrew and Tanton, Clare and Macdowall, Wendy and Bonell, Chris and Sonnenberg, Pam and Mercer, Catherine Heather and Field, Nigel, 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). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3862586 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3862586

Kirstin Rebecca Mitchell (Contact Author)

University of Glasgow - MRC/CSO Social and Public Health Sciences Unit ( email )

Glasgow
United Kingdom

Michal Shimonovich

University of Glasgow - MRC/CSO Social and Public Health Sciences Unit ( email )

Glasgow
United Kingdom

Raquel Bosó Pérez

University of Glasgow - MRC/CSO Social and Public Health Sciences Unit ( email )

Glasgow
United Kingdom

Emily Dema

University College London - Institute for Global Health ( email )

United Kingdom

Soazig Clifton

University College London - Institute for Global Health ( email )

United Kingdom

Julie Riddell

University of Glasgow - MRC/CSO Social and Public Health Sciences Unit ( email )

Glasgow
United Kingdom

Andrew Copas

University College London - Institute for Global Health

United Kingdom

University College London - Institute for Health Informatics

Gower Street
London, WC1E 6BT
United Kingdom

Clare Tanton

London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine ( email )

United Kingdom

Wendy Macdowall

London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine ( email )

United Kingdom

Chris Bonell

London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine

Keppel Street
London, WC1E 7HT
United Kingdom

Pam Sonnenberg

University College London - Institute for Global Health ( email )

United Kingdom

Catherine Heather Mercer

University College London - Institute for Global Health ( email )

United Kingdom

Nigel Field

University College London - Institute for Global Health ( email )

United Kingdom

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