Lockdowns related to the COVID-19 pandemic have “dramatically impacted” intimacy and sexual health in Italy, say the authors of a recent Journal of Sexual Medicine study.
However, sexual activity could have a protective effect in both men and women they added.
SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, began spreading worldwide in December 2019. As was the case in other countries, Italy was subject to a lockdown that restricted interactions with others. The goal of the protocol was to limit virus transmission. But many people living under the lockdown faced psychological and social challenges.
To learn more about the lockdown’s effects on sexuality, the authors created an anonymous online survey called Sex@COVID, which was administered between April 7, 2020 and May 4, 2020. The survey asked questions about anxiety and depression symptoms, quality of relationships, sexual function, and orgasm intensity.
Overall, 6,821 people (4,177 women and 2,644 men) completed the questionnaire. They were separated into two groups:
- Group A included 2,608 individuals (985 men and 1,623 women) who were sexually active during the COVID-19 lockdown.
- Group B consisted of 4,213 people (1,659 men and 2,554 women) who reported no sexual activity during the lockdown period.
Before the lockdown, 81% of the entire group had been sexually active; the rest were not. About 14% of the participants said they had had psychological symptoms (e.g., stress, anxiety, or depression).
Group A had a higher mean age than group B (36 years vs. 31 years, respectively). Almost 70% of Group A was either married or cohabitating, and 91% of Group B was single or engaged.
The data showed that in general, sexually active participants had better scores on anxiety and depression assessments. In addition, sexually active participants under age 40 had sex more frequently than their older counterparts. About 45% of the former group had sex more than once a week. For those over 40, the rate was 35%.
Participants who were not sexually active were more likely to have anxiety or depression as well as poorer relationship quality.
Higher risk for anxiety and depression was associated with other variables as well, including female gender, living without a partner, being over 40 years of age, pre-lockdown psychological symptoms, and being unemployed or laid off from a job.
The findings suggest that sexual activity might protect against pandemic-related psychological distress and relationship issues.
“Addressing sexual health of the population is proposed, finally, as a pivotal strategy to improve the adhesion to the difficult social norms characterizing the breakdown,” the authors concluded.
The Journal of Sexual Medicine
Mollaioli, Daniele, PhD, et al.
“Benefits of Sexual Activity on Psychological, Relational, and Sexual Health During the COVID-19 Breakout”
(Full-text. October 23, 2020)