How do health and safety protocols implemented in response to the COVID-19 pandemic affect female sexual function and health?
As the COVID-19 pandemic continues worldwide, researchers have been investigating how the physical and social aspects of the virus affect sexuality in men and women.
Here we’ll discuss some of the ways social distancing, lock-downs, and pandemic-related stress have influenced sexual health for women.
- In general, women’s sexual function was impacted negatively during the pandemic. One review study from 18 countries published in July 2021 reported that women had less sexual desire and were having partnered intercourse less often (although solitary sexual behavior had increased). Women were also less satisfied with their sex lives and their relationships.
- Another 2021 study focused on 89 Italian women aged 28-50 who lived with their partners. For these women, the average frequency of sex dropped from 6.3 times per month before the pandemic to 2.3 times per month during social restriction periods. Some women said they were concerned about the virus transmitting to or from their partner.
- In Egypt, researchers analyzed data from 479 women and 217 men. Among the women, sexual satisfaction rates dropped from 74% before the COVID-19 lockdown to 56% during lockdown. Only 56% of the women said they were satisfied with their sexual performance compared to 71% of the men. In addition, 97% of the women had sexual function assessment scores that would indicate sexual problems. Women reported more anxiety, depression, and sexual stress than men did.
- In another study from Italy, sexually active men and women had less psychological distress. The authors reported a “protective effect” of sexual activity on quarantine-related anxiety and mood disorders.
- Researchers in the United Kingdom expressed concerns that women and children may be vulnerable to intimate partner and sexual violence during the pandemic. “It is important that people who are concerned about their sexual thoughts and behaviors can seek appropriate support,” the authors wrote.
- Some women are rethinking their plans for pregnancy because of the pandemic. One study of 504 women (mostly in the United Kingdom) found that while 92% still planned to become pregnant at some point, over half said their plans had changed due to COVID-19. Over 70% of this subgroup said they would postpone their pregnancy. Many said they were concerned about how the virus could affect the health of their baby and themselves.
- In another study, researchers reported that stress, anxiety, and depression had negatively affected sexual function in 437 pregnant Iranian women.
- BMC Pregnancy and Childbirth via US National Library of Medicine
Effati-Daryani, Fatemeh, et al.
“The relationship between sexual function and mental health in Iranian pregnant women during the COVID-19 pandemic”
(Full-text. Published: April 26, 2021)
- Current Sexual Health Reports - “Women’s Sexual Health During the Pandemic of COVID-19: Declines in Sexual Function and Sexual Pleasure”
de Oliveira, Leonor and Joana Carvalho
(Full-text. Published: July 3, 2021)
- Frontiers in Endocrinology via US National Library of Medicine - “The Impact of the COVID-19 Pandemic on Women’s Reproductive Health”
Phelan, Niamh, et al.
(Full-text. Published online: March 22, 2021)
- Journal of Sexual Medicine - “Coping Using Sex During the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) Outbreak in the United Kingdom”
Gillespie, Steven M., PhD, et al.
(Full-text. Published: November 26, 2020)
- “Benefits of Sexual Activity on Psychological, Relational, and Sexual Health During the COVID-19 Breakout”
Mollaioli, Daniele, PhD, et al.
(Full-text. Published: October 23, 2020)
- “Love in the Time of COVID-19: Sexual Function and Quality of Life Analysis During the Social Distancing Measures in a Group of Italian Reproductive-Age Women”
Schiavi, Michele Carlo, MD, PhD, et al.
(Full-text. Published: July 8, 2020)
- Sexual Medicine - “Female Sexual Function During the COVID-19 Pandemic in the United States”
Bhambhvani, Hriday P., BS, et al.
(Full-text. Published: April 16, 2021)
- “Correlation of Sexual Behavior Change, Family Function, and Male-Female Intimacy Among Adults Aged 18-44 Years During COVID-19 Epidemic”
Yi-Jin Feng, MD, et al.
(Full-text. Published: January 8, 2021)
- “Psychological and Sexual Health During the COVID-19 Pandemic in Egypt: Are Women Suffering More?”
Omar, Salma Samir, MD, et al.
(Full-text. Published: January 9, 2021)
- Women’s Health Reports via US National Library of Medicine
Flynn, Angela C., et al.
“The Impact of the COVID-19 Pandemic on Pregnancy Planning Behaviors”
(Full-text. Published online: March 2021)