• The authors now recommend that the Covid-19 pandemic should be considered a cause of sexual dissatisfaction and possibly sexual dysfunctions in clinical settings.
• Dissatisfaction with sex was not synonymous with the desire for less sex. Neither was it synonymous with desire for more. “Irrespective of how frequency changed, our finding is that satisfaction reduced,” the authors said.
Covid-19 has killed millions across the globe, and researchers now say the pandemic is also killing sexual desire among married couples.
A dearth of libido caused by the pandemic has swept through bedrooms and left marriages reeling in its train.
A report by Amref Health Africa shows the lost sexual desire in marriages may be long-lasting.
Nearly half of married couples became dissatisfied with sex during the lockdown last year and wanted it less often, the study shows.
Sexual satisfaction is widely used to gauge the health of a marital relationship. This is because partners are unlikely to be satisfied with sex if they have ongoing conflicts.
According to the Amref study, the share of married couples reporting sexual dissatisfaction rose to 41.3 per cent last year while those satisfied with sex dropped to 58 per cent from 73.4 per cent before the pandemic.
The study was led by Prof Joachim Osur, a reproductive health expert and the dean of the School of Medical Sciences at the Amref International University in Nairobi.
It was conducted virtually from September 15 to September 30 last year. Respondents were asked about their sexual experience during the pandemic and before.
“Most of the participants (73.4 per cent) reported that they were satisfied with their marital sex before Covid-19 but the proportion of those reporting satisfaction dropped to 58.4 per cent when they were asked about their experience during the Covid-19 pandemic,” says the study.
The study was published last week in the Sexual Medicine journal.
The other researchers were Mugambi Ireri and Tammary Esho, from Amref International University and Amref Health Africa respectively.
The authors recommend that Covid-19 pandemic should be considered a cause of sexual dissatisfaction and possibly sexual dysfunctions in clinical settings.
“Among participants surveyed during the pandemic itself, therefore, 41.3 per cent reported that they were currently sexually dissatisfied,” the report says.
All the respondents were sampled purposively from 20 virtual social groups of married couples with a membership of about 3,000, drawn from across Kenya.
These are support groups formed voluntarily by couples who want to improve their marriages. The groups normally have both wife and husband as members.
The questions asked included the extent to which participants were happy with the frequency of sex; time and place where sex happened; the ambience around sex; and the whole process of sex including foreplay and penetrative sex.
Participants were asked to compare their experiences before and during Covid-19.
“The overall effect was increased dissatisfaction with sex and, males aged 31–40 years and being in a marriage for less than 20 years exhibited the most dissatisfaction, possibly because this is the time when sexual activity is highest,” the authors say.
Frequency of sex was the main contributor to dissatisfaction with marital sex.
Before the Covid-19 pandemic, 63.6 per cent of participants wanted sex more frequently and only 4.1 per cent wanted it less often.
Those who wanted sex more often however dropped to 57.8 per cent during the lockdown, those wanting sex less rose to 21.1 per cent.
Some experts say a few people may take longer to recover while a small percentage have completely lost the connection with their partners.
The sexual process, including foreplay, sexual position and the speed of sex was also a contributor to dissatisfaction.
Before Covid-19 pandemic, 29.4 per cent of participants were rarely, never or only had the desired process once in a while.
“This proportion increased to 41.7 per cent during the pandemic. At the same time, those who had the desired process often or all the time decreased from 45.1 per cent to 35.3 per cent,” the authors say.
However, the authors explained that dissatisfaction with sex was not synonymous with the desire for less sex. Neither was it synonymous with desire for more. It was also not synonymous with the desire to maintain existing frequency.
“Irrespective of how frequency changed, our finding is that satisfaction reduced,” the report says.
The authors theorise that the dissatisfaction was due to increased less personal freedom and privacy and deteriorating mental health during the pandemic.
Couples living in Nairobi were most unhappy with sex.
“These factors could have been enhanced in Nairobi by having children at home because schools were closed, working from home, restrictions in public transportation and stringent enforcement of all other Covid-19 control restrictions in Nairobi compared to other parts of Kenya.”
The findings are not unique to Kenya and align with other studies conducted in the United States, Italy, Turkey and China during the pandemic.
"I think a big part of the reason for that is because so many people were just too stressed out,” Justin Lehmiller, social psychologist and research fellow at The Kinsey Institute, which conducted the US-based study told the BBC in April this year.
He noted that initially, the lockdown gave people the opportunity to reconnect better. But as the pandemic wore on, it began to take its toll on intimate relationships, and sexual desire took a nosedive.
"A similar study done in China among men found increased rates of erectile dysfunction and quick ejaculation. Authors related the findings to increased anxiety and depression," Prof Osur says in the Kenyan study.
Many Kenyans also lost their jobs, or lived on reduced salaries last year, leading to a lower quality of life.
Previous studies have also found that sexual satisfaction correlates with satisfaction with life generally so that if circumstances of life change, it also changes.
The authors say the findings cannot be generalised because of various limitations. The study is limited by recall bias as people had to fill in their historical data on sexual satisfaction prior to Covid-19.
Although the study had an anticipated sample size of 300, it ended up with 197, probably because it can be difficult for people to give information on their sexual habits.
"The study only carries benefits since the information obtained can be used to improve sexual health and psychological services in the current and any future lockdowns," the authors say.
In a separate analysis, the Ministry of Health reported that as a result of people forced into their homes last year, cases of domestic violence also increased.
In July 2020, at least 16,000 cases of domestic violence were reported in Kenya, compared to 11,000 in July 2019.
"Women and girls were disproportionally affected as communities were forced to stay home," says the report from the District Health Information System.
(edited by o. owino)