Researchers examine sexual well-being during the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic

In a recent study published in the Opinions on sexual medicine journal, researchers conducted a scoping review on sexual well-being during the severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) pandemic.

Study: Sexual health during COVID-19: a scoping review. Image Credit: Zubada/Shutterstock

Background

SARS-CoV-2 was initially discovered in December 2019 in China. Amazingly, the virus spread quickly to the rest of the world. On March 11, 2020, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19), the respiratory disease associated with SARS-CoV-2, a pandemic. Most countries have adopted extraordinary preventive measures in response to the COVID-19 pandemic to reduce community transmission, protect public health facilities, and maintain essential societal activities.

The social interactions and general well-being of the world’s population have been significantly impacted by the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic. Additionally, internationally applied COVID-19 preventive interventions could impact all aspects of sexual health.

About the study

The current scoping review aimed to consolidate available studies examining the potential impacts of SARS-CoV-2 infection-related lockdowns on adult sexual health, i.e. sexual behavior, satisfaction sex and sexual functioning. Additionally, the team reviewed research on how sexual wellbeing and mental health interacted during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The researchers conducted the review following the guidelines of the Joanna Briggs Institute Checklist and Extension for Scoping Reviews (PRISMA-ScR). From October 11-12, 2021, they systematically searched Embase, PubMed, PsycInfo, Cochrane, Cinahl, Scopus, and Sociological Abstracts for relevant peer-reviewed articles using the quantitative approach. In particular, the review focused on quantitative peer-reviewed English articles with adult sample sizes published before October 12, 2021.

Additionally, scientists have retrieved unpublished, i.e. gray, research papers on the subject. Additionally, four independent reviewers performed the analysis, data extraction, and evidence selection using an iterative process.

Results

The team found 107 studies that showed multifaceted and complex trends and some general patterns. The current scoping review found that the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic has significantly impacted all facets of sexual health based on these 107 included papers. With the exception of solitary sexual behaviors, primarily negative COVID-19 ramifications were identified, but overall the results were complex and unpredictable across all segments of the population.

With regard to sexual behavior, the surveys have highlighted a strong downward trend in sexual practices as a couple, particularly for people who do not share a home or who are in a committed couple. In contrast, studies have found an increase in solitary sexual behaviors like masturbation and pornography use; some research has even suggested a propensity to try new sexual behaviors.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, pornography use was a widely practiced sexual activity around the world. Some studies have also found a substantial increase in pornography use, especially among men or young people. These results were in line with previous studies that showed an increase in desire for porn after the COVID-19 lockdown.

Despite inconsistent results regarding digital sexual practices such as online dating and sexting, the overall trend points to relatively low, if not declining, engagement in these behaviors. Additionally, research has repeatedly demonstrated a general decline in casual sexual activity and risky sexual behavior. In contrast, few analyzes have found a high or even increasing prevalence of unprotected sex, primarily among men who have sex with men (MSM).

The included studies showed that while some participants’ sexual functioning improved or decreased, around 50% of subjects experienced no change. The review concluded that various contextual and socio-demographic factors dampened sexual behavior, functioning, and satisfaction during the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic. Finally, there was a strong correlation between sexual health and general mental health.

The literature has drawn attention to diverse populations that are more vulnerable to sexual difficulties amid societal blockages. Additionally, he reported that COVID-19 limitations had a more detrimental effect on women’s total sexual function than men’s. Remarkably, few studies have suggested that consistent relationships, intimacy, and sexual acts can be protective during a severe health crisis like this.

conclusion

This scoping review has illustrated a wide range of impacts associated with SARS-CoV-2 on sexual well-being, such as a general decline in coupled sex and a parallel increase in solitary sexual behaviors. He also highlighted the need for further investigation into the potential long-term effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on different population cohorts and all facets of sexual health. The team also strongly recommended repeated revisions of newly published material in this area.

Additionally, the authors pointed out that almost all of the chosen studies used only a cross-sectional observational questionnaire method to examine different dimensions of sexuality during SARS-CoV-2 lockdowns. Therefore, there was no way to distinguish distinct contributing factors or identify precise causal pathways underlying variations in sexual health. Additionally, the investigators mentioned that they used the scoping review approach because it provides a deeper insight than a systematic review.

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