Lockdown Has Imploded People's Sex Lives

Lockdown Has Imploded People's Sex Lives
Image:JOEL SAGET/AFP via Getty Image (Getty Images)

Internet hype in the early days of lockdown suggested that to exist under quarantine was to be ravenously horny. True as it may have been for some, results of a Kinsey Institute study published at the end of June in the journal Leisure Sciences suggests that people’s sex lives have taken a hit in lockdown.

“The overall trend we see in our data is toward less sexual activity and lower sexual satisfaction,” said Dr. Justin Lehmiller, the lead author of the paper “Less Sex, but More Sexual Diversity: Changes in Sexual Behavior during the COVID-19 Coronavirus Pandemic,” and author of the fascinating book Tell Me What You Want: The Science of Sexual Desire and How It Can Help You Improve Your Sex Life, now out in paperback. “A larger number of people are reporting struggles and challenges and there are a lot of people who are masturbating less, they’re having less partnered sex, because they don’t even feel desire to do it right now. They’re too stressed and lonely and have too many other concerns to deal with.”

The study looked at the responses of 1,559 adults who completed an anonymous online survey between March 21 and April 14, 2020. The majority of the sample group (71.1 percent) identified as female, 52.7 percent identified as heterosexual, and 84.1 percent identified as white/caucasian. Lehmiller and his colleagues Justin R. Garcia, Amanda N. Gesselman, and Kristen P. Mark, “sought to document people’s sexual lives in the time of covid-19 by exploring changes in sexual behavior patterns since the pandemic began via an online survey,” according to their paper.


They found that most participants (43.5 percent) reported a decline in the quality of their sex life, with those reporting that it stayed the same close behind in numbers (42.8 percent), and a minority of 13.6 percent reporting that it had improved. Trying something new—which could include trying a new position, watching pornography, and the sharing of fantasies, among the many options—was linked to said improvements. According to the paper:

Among those making new additions, 28.6 percent reported that their sex life improved, 29.2 percent reported no change, and 42.2 percent reported a decline. For those who did not make new additions, 9.8 percent indicated their sex life improved, 46.3 percent reported no change, and 43.9 percent indicated their sex life declined.

“The situation is challenging people’s intimate lives and we need to find some way to cope with that,” explained Lehmiller. “For some people, they’re turning to more adventurous activities and those who are are reporting the happiest and healthiest sex lives right now.”

Those living with partners were more likely to try new activities, which according to the paper, “is not entirely surprising because these circumstances likely necessitated more creativity with respect to pursuing sex for leisure.”

Lehmiller said after an initial wave of data collection, the team added questions about fantasies in follow-up waves to look at how the frequency, content, and nature of sexual fantasies could be changing.

“About one in five of the participants said that they noticed at least some change in their sexual fantasies since the pandemic began,” he said of those results. “About one in ten said that they fantasized about something they’d never fantasized about before. Also people reported they’re fantasizing more frequently now than they were before the pandemic, which I think makes sense because more broadly looking at our data, people are less sexually active. They’re having less partnered sexual activity and so they might be turning inward to their fantasies more as a way of meeting and gratifying their sexual needs.” Additionally, compared to life pre-pandemic, there was a reported increase of fantasies about passion and romance, in addition to novelty and group sex.

“People are turning to their fantasies more and they’re trying to meet unmet sexual needs,” said Lehmiller. “I think that might help to explain why you have more fantasies about passion and romance, more fantasies about doing different things because our intimate lives are on hold right now.”

Lehmiller said that further study and data collection would need to be performed to determine people’s longer term quarantine-breaking habits, which has been going on for months now to some extent, according to our less-than-scientific research methods at Jezebel. Lehmiller says he hypothesizes that “the longer this has gone on, the less likely people are to adhere to those social distancing guidelines because human beings have this powerful need to belong, to feel connected to others.”

“When you can’t do that, it creates a sense of loneliness that we know is damaging to our physical and psychological health,” he continued. “For a lot of people, they can only distance for so long. They have to go out and interact with the world because their psychological needs aren’t being met and the virtual connections aren’t quite as satisfying for people. It’s harder to meet your needs through them when you don’t have that actual physical touch.”

Overall, Lehmiller described his group’s study as more “nuanced” than what the early reports suggested about how the pandemic is changing people’s sex lives.

“What our data shows is that different people are being impacted in very different ways,” he said. “Some people are hornier than ever, some people show no sexual desire, some people aren’t seeing any changes. There isn’t one common trend line that unites everybody.”

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