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UofG researchers found an increase in virtual sexual activity and a decline in physical relationships and sexual satisfaction for people aged 18-24.

A recent study published by the University of Glasgow in conjunction with University College London (UCL) and the National Centre for Social Research (NatCen) found that the sex lives of young people were most affected by lockdown. Sexually experienced young people aged between 18-24 were most likely to report a change in frequency, with 60% doing so, of which 66% reported a decline in sexual experiences. This age group also reported a decline in perceived sexual satisfaction. 

The study collected data from over 6,500 people aged between 18-59. The data was collected between 29 July and 10 August 2020 and participants were asked a series of questions about their sexual behaviour (including physical and virtual activities) during the first four months of lockdown.

Aside from the findings on young people the study found that more broadly adults were still engaging in intimate relationships over lockdown. Finding that 57% of adults classed as sexually experienced said there was no change in the number of times they had sex with a partner compared to the three months before lockdown. In addition, 63% of adults reported having sex after lockdown started with just under a quarter of those not living in cohabiting relationships.

As well as studying physical relationships the study also assessed the changes in online behaviour as a result of the first lockdown. The study found that 53% reported a virtual sexual activity such as sexting or watching pornography compared to 84% who reported some form of physical sexual activity with a partner or by themselves. The proportion of people reporting virtual activities since lockdown was largely driven by watching pornography, reported by 65% of men and 21% of women.

Professor Kirstin Mitchell (University of Glasgow), joint senior author, noted: “Physical touch is a fundamental human need and crucial in developing intimacy. Virtual ways of being sexual can feel less satisfying because they don’t allow that. We found the reduction in opportunity to give and receive intimate touch was not experienced equally across the population.”


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