April 15, 2020
Relationships are hard, any time. In this phase of physical distancing and infection fear, they're even harder. How do we date? What does intimacy look like now? Which couples are maintaining good relationships and which aren't? What happens to desire under such global stress?
Expert researchers from IU's Kinsey Institute are at work to answer such questions. The institute's recently launched study, “Sex and Relationships in the Time of COVID-19”, is aimed at better understanding the romantic and sexual lives of adults during and after the coronavirus pandemic.
The study is collecting data through online surveys, with over 3,000 participants so far responding to the first wave of data collection, which began March 20, 2020. The researchers plan two more waves of data collection in April and May.
The research team recently analyzed results from the first wave of data collection and released some initial findings from a sample of about 1,200 participants focused on the topic of sex as leisure.
"In the era of the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic, both facilitators and obstacles to sexual activity are being redefined," said Justin Garcia, acting executive director of the Kinsey Institute, an IU Bicentennial Professor, and one of the study's lead investigators. "Physical distancing and isolation rules have imposed a number of limits on our ability to have sex for leisure."
Under the stress and distance created by the novel coronavirus's spread, nearly half of the adults surveyed reported that their sex life has declined and that they are currently less sexually active.
But, while dampened sexual desire under stress is prevalent, there is also positive news, according to the researchers.
"People are creating new and unique opportunities to pursue sexual fulfillment," said Justin Lehmiller, research fellow at The Kinsey Institute and member of the research team. "Many of them are seeing the current circumstances as an opportunity to expand their sexual repertoires and try something new."
Some 17% of participants reported having incorporated at least one new activity into their sex lives since the pandemic began. The most common additions included sexting, sending nude photos to someone else, trying a new sexual position, and sharing sexual fantasies with a partner.
The survey also revealed that some people were more likely to try new things than others, including younger adults, persons living alone, those who felt lonely, and those with sensation-seeking tendencies.
Description of the video:
Justin Garcia sits at desk facing computer screen to discuss relationships during COVID-19.
Justin Garcia speaks: "We just launched a major study called "Sex and Relationships in the Time of COVID-19." One of the things we think is happening is, at least from some of this early data, is that there might be some people who are using this time to expand some of their sexual repertoire. So it might be a way that they're saying, "Oh, let's try something new," and maybe that new thing is maybe even more communication, what you like and what you don't. It could be sexual activities or it could be things like, have you ever given your partner a neck massage or a foot massage? When we think about people's intimate lives, new sexual variety can range from what you might think of on more extreme ends on new sexual behaviors and activities and products and toys, to another end where it's maybe something like have you ever taken a hot bubble bath together? It's all sorts of things we can integrate into our intimate lives that might be novel, and what we see, at least the data suggests so far is that for some people, they are using this time as an opportunity to expand those repertoires."
Going forward, Garcia said he and the research team hope the study’s data will point toward the pandemic’s long-term effects on various aspects of intimate relationships, including fertility, marriage, and divorce.
“We have a real opportunity to understand which kinds of people can experience this chaotic time and use it to help their relationships thrive, and which relationships will simply get pushed over the edge,” Garcia said.
Overall, the Kinsey Institute study findings so far point to the remarkable adaptability and resilience of human beings, according to Garcia.
“The consistent theme is variation. Even in the face of such drastic changes to daily life, we’re all finding creative ways to cope. If we can keep approaching each other with understanding and compassion, I think we’ll end up in a good place on the other side of this,” he said.
The Kinsey Institute’s Sex and Relationships in the Time of COVID-19 research team includes Garcia; Amanda Gesselman, the Anita Aldrich Endowed Research Scientist and associate director for research at The Kinsey Institute; Lehmiller; and Kristen Mark, associate professor and director of the Sexual Health Promotion Laboratory at the University of Kentucky.
The researchers plan to continue data collection long-term and will roll out results as they become available. The first set of findings will be published soon in the journal Leisure Sciences.
To find out more about the study, visit the Kinsey Institute’s Covid-19 Research web page.