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Sex and COVID: What Have We Learned?


  • Adults report having sex less often since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • New research suggests a link between sexual activity and mental health outcomes during COVID-19.
  • A healthy sex life supports better mental health outcomes.
  • COVID-19 infection and chronic stress place men at risk for erectile dysfunction (ED).

Research shows that people have reported less sex and lower sexual satisfaction during the COVID-19 pandemic. A new study found that adults who had less sex during lockdown were at higher risk for anxiety and depression. Getting your sex life back on track may help to improve your mental health and well-being.

New Study on COVID-19 and Sexual Behavior

Many people have experienced a profound shift in their relationships and mental health during the COVID-19 pandemic. A new study published in the Journal of Sexual Medicine paints a picture of how COVID-19 has impacted sexual behavior and mental health outcomes.

Researchers surveyed a large sample of adults living in Italy during the COVID-19-related lockdown. They found that anxiety and depression scores were significantly lower in participants who were sexually active during the lockdown. Lack of sexual activity during lockdown was associated with significantly higher risk for developing anxiety and depression.

The authors proposed that sexual activity may be a protective factor against anxiety and mood disorders during periods of extreme social or personal distress.

How COVID Has Changed Sex

Couple in bed

Many researchers have explored the impact of COVID-19 on adults’ sex lives. Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, people have reported engaging in less sex and having lower sexual satisfaction. Some studies have attempted to explain the how and why behind these global trends.

Less Casual and Partnered Sex

Studies show that both men and women have reported significant decreases in partnered sex since the start of the pandemic. Researchers have linked this trend to relationship status, cohabitation status, and social distancing behaviors.

A study of American adults found the greatest drop in casual sex, hookups, and number of partners during the first few months of the pandemic. However, many participants reported resuming these sexual behaviors an average of six to seven weeks into the pandemic. People living with a sexual partner reported only moderate declines in sexual activity.

A study of sexual satisfaction during the second wave of the pandemic reported similar findings. The researchers found that relationship and cohabitation status seemed to have the strongest impact on sexual satisfaction. Single participants reported significantly lower sexual satisfaction than participants who lived with their sexual partner.

Lower Libido

COVID-19 has negatively affected women’s libido. Studies show that women have experienced declines in both sexual function and sexual pleasure throughout the pandemic.

A recent study explored the status of women’s sexual function and reported pleasure across 18 countries during the pandemic. They found that many women reported engaging in less partnered sex and experiencing less pleasure. Women who lived with their partners and reported higher relationship satisfaction were the least impacted by these declines.

Erectile Dysfunction

Untreated sexual dysfunction (ED) can limit how much sex a person has and how satisfied they are with the sex they’re having. Unfortunately, rates of erectile dysfunction (ED) have risen during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Men who recover from COVID-19 may develop ED as a result of the infection. This is especially true for men with pre-existing cardiovascular conditions. In addition, pandemic-related stress and anxiety can contribute to existing sexual dysfunction.

A Healthy Sex Life is Good for Your Mental Health

Older couple walking outside

Sexual activity and satisfaction can play an important part in your overall health and well-being. Studies show that a healthy sex life helps to support mental health.

Sex Helps Reduce Stress

Sex can help you to relieve stress in the moment. It can also help you to manage your stress long term.

Research shows that sex and other forms of partnered intimacy help your body to regulate cortisol levels. Sex also floods your body with hormones like oxytocin and endorphins, which improve your mood in the moment.

Sex Promotes Better Sleep

Even sleep experts agree that sexual activity can support your health. Research shows that the general public agrees. A study examining public perceptions on sleep and sex found that people report better sleep following an orgasm.

The hormones released during sex can help you to get a better night’s sleep. For example, orgasms cause your body to release prolactin. This hormone makes you feel relaxed and satisfied.

Sex Can Boost Your Mood

Similar to exercise, sex releases endorphins. Endorphins can increase pleasure and energy. They are also referred to as the body’s natural pain killers, because they can reduce pain and increase perceived well-being.

Research suggests that older adults who stay sexually active are more likely to report higher levels of life enjoyment and overall well-being.

Sex May Improve Your Memory

Some research indicates that regular sexual activity is associated with better cognitive and memory function. Most of this research has focused on adults age 50 and older. Additional research is needed to confirm the positive impact of sex on cognition and memory throughout adulthood.

Researchers in Australia discovered a link between frequent sexual activity and memory function in older adults. More than 6,000 older adults were asked to complete a memory task, then to repeat the task two years later. Frequent sexual activity was associated with improved memory performance.

A study in heterosexual women between the ages of 18 and 29 had similar findings. Women who had more sex demonstrated better word recall than their counterparts. Researchers theorize this is due to a link between sexual activity and hippocampus function, which is responsible for word memory.

Bounce Back with

You aren’t alone if your sex life has lulled during the COVID-19 pandemic. As many of us explore new ways to engage in our professional and social lives, we can take the opportunity to embrace the benefits of a healthy sex life.

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