The sex recession: how Britain lost its libido in lockdown

It seems Covid has affected our sex lives, from single people unable to meet anyone new, to married couples sick of the sight of each other

By Rebecca Reid

There have been plenty of depressing forecasts about the recession that will inevitably hit Britain as a result of the pandemic. But it turns out that we’re already in a recession of a slightly different description. A sex recession.

According to sex toy retailer Mystery Vibe, which surveyed 10,000 people, 25 per cent of Britons didn’t have sex at all last year, and close to 40 per cent had less sex in 2020 because their libido had lessened, with a quarter attributing that to Covid-related anxiety.

One in 10 said working from home had hit their sex drive, and 6 per cent said too many video calls were limiting their libido. Oh and 11 per cent said that the state of politics was ruining their sex life (those daily briefings clearly not doing it for the nation).

Like with so much in lockdown, women were particularly affected – the study reported that four in 10 had less sex last year, with a third of those women concerned that the lack of sex was negatively affecting their mental health.

The sex recession probably shouldn’t come as any more of a surprise than the traditional kind, given all the factors that we’re working with. If you’re single, then since March 2020 (possibly slightly longer if you were an early adopter of social distancing), your chances of having sex were nigh on nothing.

Almara Abgarian, 31, is a writer and dating expert for Bare.com. “My sex life has pretty much died since the pandemic,” she says.

“I’m a really sexual person, and I’ve only had sex once in the last seven months. I’ve done a few park dates, but you can’t touch, obviously you can’t kiss – so I’ve decided until I can do anything like that it’s not worth it.

“I’ve had a few naughty phone calls from virtual dates but otherwise I’ve developed a very close relationship with my new vibrator. And even then, I haven’t really felt in the mood.”

But being single is by no means the only reason people are being hit by the sex recession. By the middle of 2020 there were already studies suggesting that cohabiting couples were having less sex than ever before. And a quarter of people in the new study reported that Covid restrictions had stopped them being able to have sex with their partner.

Between the stress of the pandemic, the rules around meeting indoors, the reality of spending every waking moment together, and for couples who have housemates or children a total lack of privacy, even those who have a regular or live-in sexual partner seem to be having far less sex.

Suzannah*, 36, says: “Before the pandemic my husband and I weren’t having a lot of sex – we had two children and a busy life. Since the pandemic, it’s almost none. I think we technically now have a sexless marriage. All of those weekends away or date nights we used to do in order to have sex have gone. We can’t use childcare in the same way. Plus we’re exhausted from working full time while trying to home school.

“The only upside is that all of my friends seem to be having the same experience. I used to feel like a bit of a failure because our sex life is so half-hearted, but now everyone else is in the same boat, I think it’s eased the stigma of not being that keen on sex.”

According to a study by the Kinsey Institute, published last summer, almost half of couples had less sex between March and May 2020, citing a lack of libido as the reason. Not to mention the growing number of marriages crumbling under the lens of lockdown – a divorce boom is predicted in 2021. According to Citizen’s Advice, in September 2020 there was a 25 per cent boost in search traffic to their page on divorce compared with September 2021.

The aftershocks of the sex recession are likely to be long lasting. The most measurable effect could be a drop in births – despite many predicting a lockdown-related baby boom.

Sex isn’t just about making babies, of course, but around one in four pregnancies in the UK is believed to be unplanned, so with so less sex taking place it follows that the number of those pregnancies may also be reduced. According to PwC, we are looking at a 2021 baby bust – just 569,000 babies are expected to be born this year, compared with around 724,000 in 2011.

“I’ve got friends in their mid-thirties who want children and they’re wondering when they’re going to be able to meet someone so they can start building a life with them,” says Abgarian.

“Even if you don’t want children, if you’re at an age where you’re hoping to settle down, it’s incredibly hard not being able to do anything to make that happen. There’s a bit of a lack of understanding for how hard it is when you’re living alone. I’m pretty independent and I like my own space, but even I really want someone to give me a cuddle.”

Little wonder that, according to MysteryVibes, the UK is “stuck in a rut”. I asked sexpert Annabelle Knight whether there’s any sign of hope for our sexual future. She told me: “At the beginning of lockdown we saw a big swell in sexual activity: my sex toy range sold faster than it ever has done before, plus romance and erotic literature sales were up too.

“But then, as lockdown became the new normal, we’ve seen a slump. Couples across the country are wondering what to do with one another; it’s almost as if they’ve OD’d on each other and are now going cold turkey.

“I’m expecting this to make a U-turn as we start to get back to normal, the sense of freedom people will feel could result in increased oxytocin and serotonin levels, which in turn will make us feel far more positive about our relationships. I’m hopeful that this will trickle into the sex lives of the nation and we’ll see a sudden wave of couples rediscovering their libidos.”

Right now all we can do is hope that before very long we’ll be back to a world where single people can meet eyes from across a bar and fall into bed with each other without having to create a support bubble. Or where couples can get a babysitter, book a night at a hotel, drink a bottle of wine in a restaurant with white linen tablecloths and fall into bed together, remembering who they were before home schooling and Joe Wicks.

Perhaps, if we’re lucky, this fallow period of sexlessness might make the summer (or winter) of love all the more exciting when it eventually arrives.

Read more:  Can you have sex in lockdown? The government rules if you live apart

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