July 18, 2020 4 min read

Things are changing during the coronavirus pandemic. It has been more than six months since the world first heard the term COVID-19. In the past six months the coronavirus has caused havoc globally. In South Africa the national lockdown was announced at the end of March, causing stress in all aspects of life. The one thing that I have noticed in my practice is the effects the corona pandemic has had on sexual function.

Mary is a 42-year-old lady who complains of the inability to reach an orgasm. She is married, has two kids and all of a sudden, out of the blue she can't reach an orgasm. When tracing it back we realised that it began in April, shortly after the lockdown. The stress of working from home and having to home-school her two kids is just too much!

John is a 36-year-old man. He is worried about his libido. He has been in a committed relationship for the past five years but is worried that his sexual drive has decreased. It started a few weeks into lockdown. He is under a lot of stress at work, he didn't receive his full salary for two months and is uncertain what the future holds.

So what is going on? Everyone is talking about the coronavirus in the sense of one's physical health, how to wash your hands and wear a mask to prevent infection, but what about our mental health, what about the effects on your relationship and your sexual health?

What are the effects of lockdown on sexual function?

Across the world sexual health experts have been seeing changes and started to investigate. A study done in Italy found that women had experienced a decrease in sexual desire, arousal, orgasm and general sexual satisfaction since the implementation of social distancing. A study from China showed an overall decrease in sexual activity and frequency.

It is obvious that if you are single and isolate you will not have contact with sexual partners, but a lot of these studies looked at couples staying together. The fact that they are isolating themselves from friends and family are starting to take its toll.

Sex is a fine balance between excitement and inhibitions. Imagine a see-saw… on the one side we have sexual excitement and on the other sexual inhibitions. If excitement is enough it will overturn inhibitions but if there are a lot of inhibiting factors, it will block excitement. During this pandemic there are serious inhibiting factors. These include but are not limited to:

1. Social isolation
2. Financial stress
3. Working from home
4. Homeschooling the kids
5. Fear of getting sick

The list of inhibiting factors goes on and on. The stress of a global pandemic is just too much.

A different reaction

Peter is a 27-year-old male who has sex with men. He is worried that he might have an STI. He is not in a relationship but has had multiple partners over the past six months. He says that having sex is the only way he can deal with his anxiety.

For others we are seeing the total opposite. Many are having more sex and are involved in more risky behaviour as a coping mechanism. COVID-19 is not the only infection that we should be worried about, don’t forget about all the STIs that have been around for ages.

How does the pandemic affect your relationship?

We all need our own space, our own time. But during lockdown couples are forced to be in each other's space 24/7. The kids are not at school and the whole family is getting irritated and frustrated with each other. You are not alone; most families are experiencing it. How do you initiate intimacy with your partner when all you need is space? How do you have sex with your partner if they are working on the frontline and you are worried about getting sick? How do you have sex with your partner if you have been exposed and are worried that you might be the cause of your partner getting sick? Is sex safe during COVID-19?

I wish I had all the answers for you, but all I can say is that communication is very important, now more than ever. Although you are seeing more of each other it doesn’t necessarily mean that you are spending quality time together.

We can talk for ages about COVID-19 and speculate on how it affects us now and how lockdown will affect our emotion and sexual wellbeing in the long run. But the truth is we don’t really know, we have never dealt with a COVID-19 pandemic before. The one thing I do know is that we are seeing more sexual problems. You are not alone, this too shall pass, don’t be too hard on yourself.

If you do need to see a doctor to discuss any sexual healh issues you are facing, contact the MSH team today.

 Dr Jireh Serfontein

Dr Jireh Serfontein – Medical Doctor specialising in the field of sexual health medicine.
086 227 7718

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