COVID-19: Only 40% of UK Adults Sexually Active While Social Distancing

Over half of British adults are having sex less than once a week during the COVID-19 pandemic, new research suggests.

Lack of sexual activity could have a negative impact on overall health, the authors said.

The paper was published online by the Journal of Sexual Medicine as an article “in press” on May 14th.

Over 4.6 million people around the world had been diagnosed with COVID-19 by May 17th, according to data from the World Health Organization (WHO). Cases are spread among 216 countries, areas, or territories. Worldwide, there have been over 312,000 deaths.

Authorities in many countries have mandated social distancing to reduce COVID-19 transmission. The United Kingdom issued the following guidance on March 23, 2020:

“Everyone must stay at home to help stop the spread of coronavirus. You should only leave your home for very limited purposes:

  1. shopping for basic necessities, for example food and medicine, which must be as infrequent as possible
  2. one form of exercise a day, for example a run, walk, or cycle – alone or with members of your household
  3. any medical need, including to donate blood, avoid or escape risk of injury or harm, or to provide care or to help a vulnerable person and
  4. travelling for work purposes, but only where you cannot work from home.”

Scientists have expressed concern over the health consequences of self-isolation and social distancing. Such measures “may result in people becoming more anxious, angry, stressed, agitated, and withdrawn,” wrote the study authors.

In the meantime, sexual activity is thought to have numerous health benefits, while inactivity has been associated with a variety of health issues, including cardiovascular disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, mental illness, and bladder/bowel problems.

To what extent has social distancing influenced sexual activity during the pandemic?

On March 17, 2020, researchers began a survey of 868 adults who lived in the UK and were taking part in social distancing. Almost two-thirds of the participants were women, and about 22% of the entire group was between the ages of 25 and 34.

The researchers asked, “On average after self-isolating/social distancing how many times have you engaged in sexual activity weekly?” (Sexual activity was defined as “sexual intercourse, masturbation, petting, or fondling.”)

Approximately 40% of the participants said they had been sexually active at least once a week, on average. Sexual activity was more common among men, younger participants, and those who were married or in a domestic relationship. Employment, a high household annual income, and alcohol consumption were also linked to a greater likelihood of sexual activity.

Respondents participated in an average of 1.75 sexual activities per week. The average for men was 3.23, compared to 0.88 for women.

About a third of respondents who had been social distancing for 0-5 days were having sex. For those who had been self-isolating for 11 days or longer, the rate was 47%.

The findings might help clinicians advise patients, the authors noted.

“Interventions to promote sexual activity during the COVID-19 pandemic may mitigate some of the detrimental health consequences in relation to self-isolation and should target those with the lowest levels of sexual activity,” they wrote.


The Journal of Sexual Medicine

Jacob, Louis, et al.

“COVID-19 social distancing and sexual activity in a sample of the British Public”

(Full-text article in press. Published online: May 14, 2020)

World Health Organization 

“Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak situation”

(Last update: May 17, 2020)

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