You’ve got a lot going on: COVID, Sex, and Relationships

by Alexis Collins and Julianne Bushe — October 7, 2022


Despite what fairytales would have you believe, relationships are complex and take a lot of work. You have to coordinate schedules, compromise, you don't always see eye-to-eye, they can never decide what they want for dinner, and of course one of the biggest points of contention- the bedroom. Now, on top of all that, you have to spend 24/7 with your partner thanks to COVID and its never-ending quarantine. You've probably been plagued with how COVID-19 has changed your life everyday for the last 765 days (but who’s counting). This article will be no exception, but we’re going to talk about what you really want to know: how COVID has impacted your relationship and sex life. However, before we can talk about that, we first need to know what constitutes a healthy relationship.

What is a healthy relationship?

A healthy relationship fosters an environment of communication where both individuals feel comfortable engaging in new, old, and difficult conversations. It's a place where you feel safe, secure, and respected. When you feel safe in your relationship, it makes it easier to allow yourself to open up to your partner both emotionally and physically.​ Sexual intimacy involves a range of different behaviours. We commonly think of sexual intimacy as two individuals engaging in sensual or sexual behaviours, usually taking the form of in-person sexual activities such as penetrative or oral sex, hand-holding, cuddling or kissing. It can also take the form of virtual activities such as sexting or solo activities such as masturbation.

How does COVID impact healthy relationships?

COVID has impacted healthy relationships in several ways. One factor that influences a healthy relationship is the amount of time a couple spends together (Arafat et al. 2020). While spending more time together may initially seem like a good thing (and it might have been at first), it adds additional stressors and challenges to the relationship that may have otherwise never occurred, which can be difficult when you are ill-equipped and unprepared to handle these situations. Also, being forced to spend more time with your partner detracts from the time you usually leave for yourself to enjoy your unshared interests, such as shows or hobbies. Losing out on this "me- time" could increase stress and conflict. Secondly, COVID adds an additional fear of harming you or a loved one with exposure to the virus and can change your outlook on how safe the world is. These fears can increase emotional and physical distance from others and cause you to close yourself off from social situations and activities you used to enjoy.

Many of the above factors, interpersonal conflict, stress, lack of privacy, and medical issues, negatively impact your sexual health (Arafat et al., 2020). At the height of COVID restrictions in 2020, almost 50% of adults in the US reported changes in their sexual behaviour, with the majority noting a decrease (Hensel et al., 2020). A meta-analysis (2021) examining the effects of COVID-19 on sexual life found more than a 4 times decrease in the frequency of sexual activities during the pandemic compared to before the pandemic.

What can you do about it?

One way you can work on overcoming the barriers that the COVID-19 pandemic has put up for you and your relationship is to increase intimacy by improving your communication skills. Feelings of intimacy often increase when we share our thoughts, feelings and both parties feel heard and understood. Another way to strengthen emotional intimacy is by avoiding negative behaviours such as using derogatory language, blaming the other person, controlling tactics, or dismissing/ undermining your partner's thoughts and feelings. Relationships are not easy, working on your communication skills is a great way to work together as a team to overcome the barriers that you face.

While emotional intimacy is crucial and linked to physical intimacy, boredom can also be a romance killer. If you're looking to jump-start your sexual intimacy, Lopes and colleagues proposed a few tips that could help you spice things up in the bedroom:

  • People with no steady sexual partner- can seek online relationships and masturbate
  • People with steady partners- send photos, videos, facetime, play sexual games, share fantasies

But remember, no matter what you try, do, or say, remember to stay safe, healthy, and protected and contact a healthcare professional if you have any questions or concerns- that's what they're there for! And our final piece of advice: if you're looking for love online and a Nigerian Prince asks you to send him money, always say no! Actually if any stranger or quasi-stranger asks for money say no, and if you don’t believe me check out The Tinder Swindler on Netflix.