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Intimate Physical Contact between People from Different Households During the COVID-19 Pandemic: A Mixed-Methods Study from a Large, Quasi-Representative Survey (Natsal-Covid)

26 Pages Posted: 9 Jun 2021

See all articles by Pam Sonnenberg

Pam Sonnenberg

University College London - Institute for Global Health

Dee Menezes

University College London

Lily Freeman

University College London - Institute for Global Health

Karen Julia Maxwell

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

David Reid

University College London - Institute for Global Health

Soazig Clifton

University College London - Institute for Global Health

Clare Tanton

London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine

Andrew Copas

University College London - Institute for Global Health

Julie Riddell

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

Emily Dema

University College London - Institute for Global Health

Raquel Bosó Pérez

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

Jo Gibbs

University College London - Institute for Global Health

Mary-Clare Ridge

University College London - Institute for Global Health

Wendy Macdowall

London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine

Magnus Unemo

Örebro University

Chris Bonell

London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine

Anne Mandall Johnson

University College London - Institute for Global Health

Catherine Heather Mercer

University College London - Institute for Global Health

Kirstin Rebecca Mitchell

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

Nigel Field

University College London - Institute for Global Health

More...

Abstract

Background: Physical distancing aims to reduce interactions between people to prevent SARS-CoV-2 transmission. Intimate physical contact outside the household (IPCOH) may expand transmission networks by connecting households. We explored whether intimacy needs impacted adherence to physical distancing following lockdown in Britain in March 2020.

Methods: The Natsal-COVID web-panel survey (July-August 2020) used quota-sampling and weighting to achieve a quasi-representative population sample. We estimated IPCOH with a romantic/sexual partner in the four weeks prior to interview and identified associated factors. Qualitative interviews (n=18) were conducted to understand the context, reasons, and decision-making around IPCOH.

Findings: Of 6,654 participants aged 18-59 years, 9.9% (95%CI:9.1-10.6%) reported IPCOH. IPCOH was highest in those aged 18-24 (17.7%), identifying as gay or lesbian (19.5%), and in steady non-cohabiting relationships (56.3%). IPCOH was associated with reporting risk behaviours (e.g., condomless sex, higher alcohol consumption). IPCOH was less likely among those reporting bad/very bad health (aOR 0.54;0.32-0.93) but more likely among those with COVID-19 symptoms and/or diagnosis (aOR 1.34;1.10-1.65). Two-thirds (64.4%) of IPCOH was reported as being within a support bubble. Qualitative interviews found that people reporting IPCOH deliberated over, and made efforts to mitigate, the risks.

Interpretation: Given 90% of people did not report IPCOH, this contact may not be a large additional contributor to SARS-CoV-2 transmission, although heterogeneity exists within the population. Public health messages need to recognise how single people and partners living apart balance sexual intimacy and relationship needs with adherence to control measures.

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

Declaration of Interests: The other authors declare that they have no conflicts of interest.

Ethics Approval Statement: Ethical approval was obtained from the University of Glasgow MVLS College (reference 20019174) and LSHTM research ethics committees (reference 22565). An anonymised dataset will be deposited with the UK Data Archive.

Keywords: COVID-19, transmission, sexual behaviour, household, bubble

Suggested Citation

Sonnenberg, Pam and Menezes, Dee and Freeman, Lily and Maxwell, Karen Julia and Reid, David and Clifton, Soazig and Tanton, Clare and Copas, Andrew and Riddell, Julie and Dema, Emily and Bosó Pérez, Raquel and Gibbs, Jo and Ridge, Mary-Clare and Macdowall, Wendy and Unemo, Magnus and Bonell, Chris and Johnson, Anne Mandall and Mercer, Catherine Heather and Mitchell, Kirstin Rebecca and Field, Nigel, Intimate Physical Contact between People from Different Households During the COVID-19 Pandemic: A Mixed-Methods Study from a Large, Quasi-Representative Survey (Natsal-Covid). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3863361 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3863361

Pam Sonnenberg (Contact Author)

University College London - Institute for Global Health ( email )

United Kingdom

Dee Menezes

University College London

Gower Street
London, WC1E 6BT
United Kingdom

Lily Freeman

University College London - Institute for Global Health ( email )

United Kingdom

Karen Julia Maxwell

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

Glasgow
United Kingdom

David Reid

University College London - Institute for Global Health

United Kingdom

Soazig Clifton

University College London - Institute for Global Health ( email )

United Kingdom

Clare Tanton

London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine ( email )

United Kingdom

Andrew Copas

University College London - Institute for Global Health

Gower Street
London, WC1E 6BT
United Kingdom

Julie Riddell

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

Raquel Bosó Pérez

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

Glasgow
United Kingdom

Jo Gibbs

University College London - Institute for Global Health ( email )

United Kingdom

Mary-Clare Ridge

University College London - Institute for Global Health ( email )

United Kingdom

Wendy Macdowall

London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine ( email )

United Kingdom

Magnus Unemo

Örebro University ( email )

Fakultetsgatan 1
SE-701 82
Örebro, 70210
Sweden

Chris Bonell

London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine

Keppel Street
London, WC1E 7HT
United Kingdom

Anne Mandall Johnson

University College London - Institute for Global Health ( email )

United Kingdom

Catherine Heather Mercer

University College London - Institute for Global Health ( email )

United Kingdom

Kirstin Rebecca Mitchell

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

Glasgow
United Kingdom

Nigel Field

University College London - Institute for Global Health ( email )

United Kingdom

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