One in five adults in the US have experienced change -- mostly a decrease -- in their sexual behavior during the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic, researchers said. The study examined changes in solo and partnered sexual behaviors from mid-March to mid-April in an effort to learn more about Americans' sex lives and relationships during the first month of social distancing.

"Our data illustrate the very personal ways in which different pandemic-associated factors may create or inhibit opportunities for solo and partnered sex," said study co-author Devon Hensel from Indiana University in the US.

Ten Behaviors Studied

Couple on bed
Representational Picture Pxhere

The study, published in the preprint repository medRxiv, used the US nationally representative probability survey of adults to look at changes in 10 solo and partnered sexual behavior categories. Across all the 10 behaviors studied, 50 percent of participants reported no change or stability in their sexual behaviors over in the period under survey.

Another third of the participants reported that they had either increased or decreased in some behaviors. The most common behaviors to increase and decrease were the same. Among the participants reporting an increase in sexual behavior, the most common increases were hugging, kissing, cuddling or holding hands with a partner. Similarly, those reporting decreases mentioned the same sexual behaviors -- hugging, kissing, cuddling, or holding hands.

The study found that participants with any children at home under the age of five were three times more likely to report increased hugging, kissing, cuddling or holding hands with a partner in the period under survey, while having elementary-aged children was often linked to decreased reports of these behaviors. Those findings could be attributed, the study said, to parents of smaller children being able to better maintain pre-pandemic schedules and routines.

Depressive Symptoms and Loneliness Associated

Likewise, parents of small children could have reported an increase in hugging, kissing, cuddling or holding hands because it is part of group/family interactions such as family cuddles. In terms of mental health factors, the study found that depressive symptoms and loneliness were associated with both reduced partnered bonding behaviors, such as hugging, cuddling, holding hands and kissing, as well as reduced partnered sexual behaviors.

The researchers said these mental health factors could be attributed to social distancing measures, which, while necessary, can exacerbate feelings of depression and loneliness for some people. "This study is a reminder that pandemics impact every aspect of the human experience, including sexuality," Hensel wrote.