Women Are Having A Lot Of Bad Sex During COVID, Study Finds

Contributing Sex & Relationships Editor By Kelly Gonsalves
Contributing Sex & Relationships Editor
Kelly Gonsalves is a sex educator and journalist. She received her journalism degree from Northwestern University, and her writings on sex, relationships, identity, and wellness have appeared at The Washington Post, Vice, Teen Vogue, Cosmopolitan, and elsewhere.
Woman Lying On Stomach In Black Lingerie On Bed

Image by Jess Craven / Stocksy

For many people, stress is a libido killer. When we're stressed out, it's much harder to get into that playful, indulgent, relaxed zone we usually need to be in to really enjoy sex. So, naturally, during a pandemic, we'd expect to see sexual desire plummet.

But according to a small recent study published in the International Journal of Gynecology & Obstetrics, many people may actually be having more sex during COVID-19.

Now, the quality of the sex? That's another story.

More sex but worse sex.

A team of Turkish researchers got in touch with 58 women who'd already been surveyed about their sex lives six to 12 months prior to the onset of the coronavirus pandemic. They were asked the same set of questions again to see what had changed since then, now in the thick of COVID-19.

As it turns out, the women had actually been having more sex since the pandemic started, going from having sex less than twice a week (1.9 times on average) to more than twice a week (2.4 times on average). The women also reported having higher sexual desire in general these days, compared to pre-COVID.

"Many people have a withdrawal response, but others have an approach response," AASECT-certified sex therapist Jessa Zimmerman tells mbg. "Sex can be a stress reliever or a distraction or a place of enjoyment during these tense times for those people."

However, despite having more sex, the women in the study reported that the overall quality of their sex life had actually gotten worse. Worst of all, the researchers even found a "significant deterioration" in women's sexual functioning, which includes things like arousal, lubrication, and ability to orgasm.

There are many reasons why that might be: Many people seek out sex as a way to relax, but it's possible that the overwhelming ambient stress of the pandemic can make it too hard to enjoy sex, even if you want it and are having more of it. Past research has also linked lower genital arousal to chronic stress and distraction.

"It's hard to turn off the worry and get present in the moment. It drains us physically, depleting our energy," Zimmerman explains. "Our brains are engaged with issues of survival and not available for pleasure."

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What to do about it.

Not all sex is good sex. There's even such a thing as bad orgasms.

That said, not all sex has to be great. If having more sex helps you relax and get some small iota of pleasure during this period of great struggle, go for it. It may not be the magic, mind-blowing sex you were having pre-COVID, and that's OK. Like in so many other areas of our lives right now, it's important to go easy on ourselves and recognize that some things are just harder right now.

To make things a little easier and maximize the pleasure you're getting from sex, Zimmerman recommends taking the pressure off: Let go of your expectations of what it should look like and avoid forcing yourself to go through the motions of your usual sexual routine if it's not really working for you. Instead, pay attention to what your real needs are right now and what sensations would actually make you feel good. It might mean more back scratches and exchanging some good oral sex, for example, rather than going through all the bells and whistles of intercourse. 

"You might need more time and more warmup than you used to," adds Zimmerman. "Enjoy whatever you do together, even if it doesn't resemble the ways you used to have sex."

If you're having trouble getting wet or having orgasms, use some lube (which should be a staple in your bedroom anyway!), and don't be afraid to use your sex toys to help you get over the edge during sex with your partner.

And remember, it's OK to not want to have sex sometimes. You might prefer masturbation over sex these days, which is totally OK. Pay attention to what your body and soul really needs right now.

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