Quarantine & rapid research

Proving you’re not alone with data

Written by Jennifer Hanson

There have been a flurry of questions about what’s been happening in our sexual and romantic lives since quarantine began, and while there's no definitive, peer-reviewed data yet, we do have some preliminary research that may confirm some of those sneaking suspicions you’re having.

Sexual habits during quarantine

Every relationship is unique in it’s own way, and this includes how people relate to sex. These pre-quarantine sex habits are what we would refer to as “normal” before this inherent stress and chaos came about. However, there is no going back to the normal that once existed. Research has shown that more rewarding relationships come from great sex1 and more frequent sex minimizes neuroticism.2 Attempting to be intimate can go a long way during isolation. Sex and romance are going to look a little different for everyone, but the research is in and many sexual activities are not getting the attention they used to pre-quarantine.

The Kinsey Institute at Indiana University has sought to research the sexual and romantic lives of humans amid the coronavirus pandemic. In a study of more than 3000 people there have been some eye-opening statistics concerning how people feel about quarantine sex. Distanced intimacy options saw a slight uptick, while many of the other results weren’t so positive.

Video sex and phone sex are up by 0.5% and 0.4% respectively, while solo porn use is up by 0.3% in comparison to pre-quarantine habits. These new routines could account for anyone pursuing a new relationship, single people dating from afar and couples living at a distance.
Masturbation is a great opportunity for self-care, as well as releasing some of those feel-good chemicals that are super useful right now. Unfortunately it’s apparent that some people aren’t heeding this advice. The occurrence of once weekly masturbation is down by about 7% overall and by 9% for people quarantined with partners.

Research shows his trend is affecting overall touch as well. About 38% of people said they are “not at all satisfied” with the amount of intimate touch they’re receiving. Those partnered with children were less satisfied than those without children. A whopping 52% of people are not satisfied with the amount of general physical touch they’re receiving during quarantine, showing that sexual intimacy isn’t the only thing driving these numbers. Research has shown even small touches like hand-holding or hugs can lower anxiety3 and stress levels.4 So staying close and cozy can have an immediate positive effect for quarantined couples!

While sex and romance are often inherently linked, people can feel differently in their overall satisfaction with either. Only 13% of people think their sex life has improved since quarantine began, while 42% believe it has declined. This is in contrast to the other 45% who believe their sex life has stayed relatively normal.

Romantic statistics are quite different in comparison. Around 22% of people think their romantic life has improved since the pandemic began, while 28% said it had declined. Almost half of those surveyed said it had stayed the same. The takeaway seems to be that people are staying close during quarantine with sex taking a backseat.

Overall, the data shows rates of sex and masturbation have both decreased, but sexual expression is more diverse in light of quarantine. About one in five people reported introducing new habits into their sex life since the pandemic began. These exciting additions include sending nudes, sexting, trying new positions and sharing fantasies.

Reaching out to exes

There are many reasons why someone would reach out to an ex-partner during normal times. Perhaps they’re feeling lonely and want the familiar feeling that an ex offers. Quarantine research is showing some surprising statistics about why people do the things they do.
Around 18% of people surveyed said they had reached out to an ex since the pandemic started, and 25% of them said an ex had reached out to them. 86% of participants said they replied to these attempts. Of these inquiries, 54% said they reached out to only one ex, while 46% reached out to multiple exes.

Research reveals the intent of these connections was mostly positive. 78% of participants said they reached out to ensure their ex was safe and healthy, followed by 64% who said they were checking to see how their ex was coping emotionally during quarantine.

Other reasons cited included reaching out because of loneliness (31%), boredom (29%), wanting their ex sexually (16%) and wanting to rekindle their relationship (9%). The participants of this study could select multiple answers, so it’s important to remember there may have been more than one driver.

Reaching out largely depended on relationship status. Singles were twice as likely to reach out to exes (27%) compared to only 13% of those in committed relationships. The intentions also varied with relationship status, with singles being more likely to want sex or to rekindle bonds while in quarantine.

The amount of people in relationships thinking of straying was relatively small. Only about 12% of coupled participants said they wanted their ex sexually, and 5% did it because they wanted to rekindle their relationship.

China’s skyrocketing divorce rate

Although definitive research is still out on Chinese divorce rates (they publishe their statistics once per year), the staggering lines and heightened amount of paperwork tell a different story. According to a report from Bloomberg in late March, the high number of divorce filings post-quarantine was creating backlogs and barely left employees enough room to get a drink of water.

Many people emerging from quarantine may have seen another side to their partner that ultimately made them question their decision. China only collects these sort of statistics once per year, so the jury is still out on how these numbers stack up. Heightened stress and psychological distress levels were still present in SARS survivors a year after the outbreak5 so it’s no wonder that these tensions combined with existing relationship issues became a massive problem for some couples.

It will be interesting to see what exactly happens to American divorces once quarantine is over. Certain couples will probably have gotten to know each other far better, while others may find themselves in the same boat as their Chinese counterparts.

All in all, everyone is attempting to cope in ways that feel the most normal to them. Sometimes isolation and quarantine cause people to feel distant and listless, while others crave touch and meaning to survive. It’s challenging to put a one-size-fits-all solution on sex, but it’s clear that there is less affection and sex being had. Combine it with reaching out to former lovers and marriages falling apart, it’s enough to make anyone feel nervous.

Several things can help this delicate situation. Being honest with your partner and communicating your feelings will help both of you grow closer through understanding your mutual needs. Research has shown more effective communication between partners equates with higher sexual satisfaction,6 so being clear and concise can help in a few different ways. This positive effect is compounded by intimacy laying the groundwork for honesty and love.7 Realistically quarantine might go on for some time, but that doesn’t mean you have to be unhappy.

  1. E. Sandra Byers (2005) Relationship satisfaction and sexual satisfaction: A longitudinal study of individuals in long‐term relationships, The Journal of Sex Research, 42:2, 113-118.
  2. Russell, M. V., & McNulty, J. K. (2011). Frequent sex protects intimates from the negative implications of their neuroticism. Social Psychological and Personality Science, 2, 220-227.
  3. Eleonora C. V. Costa, Eva Castanheira, Litícia Moreira, Paulo Correia, Duarte Ribeiro & M. Graça Pereira (2017) Predictors of emotional distress in pregnant women: the mediating role of relationship intimacy, Journal of Mental Health.
  4. Justin A Lavner, Thomas N Bradbury, Protecting relationships from stress, Current Opinion in Psychology, Volume 13, 2017, Pages 11-14, ISSN 2352-250X.
  5. Lee, A. M., Wong, J. G., Mcalonan, G. M., Cheung, V., Cheung, C., Sham, P. C., … Chua, S. E. (2007). Stress and Psychological Distress among SARS Survivors 1 Year after the Outbreak. The Canadian Journal of Psychiatry, 52(4), 233–240.
  6. Kristen P. Mark & Kristen N. Jozkowski (2012): The Mediating Role of Sexual and Nonsexual Communication Between Relationship and Sexual Satisfaction in a Sample of College-Age Heterosexual Couples, Journal of Sex & Marital Therapy.
  7. Prager & Roberts (2004). Deep intimate connection: Self and intimacy in couple relationships. Handbook of closeness and intimacy.

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