For many, 2020 was a year of becoming familiar or reacquainted with home activities such as reading, making puzzles, playing boardgames, and cooking. Now, researchers have found compelling reasons to add sexual activities to this list.
A recent study in the Journal of Sexual Medicine that surveyed 6,821 Italians from April 7, 2020 – May 4, 2020 revealed that study participants who were sexually active during the country’s government-mandated lockdown demonstrated lower levels of anxiety and depression, as well as better quality of relationships and sexual health than those who were not sexually active.
Researchers investigated aspects of mental, relational, and sexual health during the COVID-19 lockdown in Italy in the spring of 2020 through an anonymous web-based survey called Sex@COVID. Sex@COVID evaluated these health factors with several established, validated measurement tools: the Generalized Anxiety Disorder scale (GAD-7) for anxiety; the Patient Health Questionnaire (PHQ-9) for depression; the Dyadic Adjustment Scale (DAS) for relationship quality; and sexual inventories including the International Index of Erectile Function (IIEF-15), Female Sexual Function Index (FSFI), and male and female Orgasmometers for sexual function.
Of the 6,821 questionnaires included in the final analysis, 2,608 participants were sexually active during lockdown (group A) and 4,213 participants were not (group B). Participants from group B were then further divided into those who had been sexually active before the lockdown (3,428) and those who were not engaged in sexual activity before lockdown (785).
The results of the study showed that women, participants who reported not being sexually active during lockdown, and participants who were separated from their partners during lockdown had higher GAD-7 and PHQ-9 scores than other participants, indicating higher levels of anxiety and depression, respectively. While there was no significant difference between the GAD-7 and PHQ-9 scores of the members of group A and the members of group B who had not been sexually active before lockdown, the members of group B who were previously sexually active but ceased having sexual relations during lockdown were at a significantly higher risk of developing anxiety or depression than their sexually active counterparts.
The Sex@COVID findings also demonstrated that the members of group A had higher DAS scores than the members of group B, signaling better relational health.
Daniela Wittmann, PhD, LMSW, an expert in sexual psychology with 30 years of experience in individual, couple, and family psychotherapy, commented:
“This information gives insight into the association between an unprecedented community event, such as a lockdown during a pandemic, and the different experiences of people who had partners and available sexual relationships versus people who were either single and could not date (due to social distancing) or could not reach their partners who lived separately.” She further suggested, “It highlights the importance of relationships and sexual closeness for coping with challenging events such as the lockdown. The protective nature of relationships during a crisis is a known phenomenon, for example in cancer.”
Only the members of group A were assessed in terms of sexual function, and results confirmed that psychological distress in the form of anxiety or depression had a negative effect on an individual’s sexual health, while good relationship health improved sexual health, which is consistent with the findings of other studies.
Overall, this study supported evidence that regular sex can have a protective effect on anxiety and depression, as well as improve relational and sexual health. Indeed, not all experiences under lockdown conditions are negative. Said Dr. Wittmann, “In some cases, lockdown may afford more quality time and an ability to enjoy emotional and sexual intimacy that are subject to external pressures of work and outside world activities and responsibilities under ordinary, non-pandemic circumstances.”
Contribution to article by Daniela Wittmann, PhD, LMSW.
Mollaioli, D., Sansone, A., Ciocca, G., Limoncin, E., Colonnello, E., Di Lorenzo, G., & Jannini, E.A. (2021). Benefits of Sexual Activity on Psychological, Relational, and Sexual Health During the COVID-19 Breakout. The Journal of Sexual Medicine, 18(1), 35-49. https://www.jsm.jsexmed.org/article/S1743-6095(20)30981-4/fulltext