The COVID-19 pandemic has brought many changes to our social and intimate relationships. Quarantine and stay-at-home measures instituted to combat the spread of the virus have forced many families and couples to live in much closer and continual contact than we normally experience.
Researchers from the Kinsey Institute’s Condom Use Research Team (CURT) team are studying how the pandemic and these public safety measures are affecting marital quality, sexual behavior, reproductive planning and health, and individual and family well-being. In April, researchers surveyed a national sample of 1,117 married individuals (both heterosexual and same-sex marriages) ages 30-50 years old, and preliminary results suggest that early in the pandemic, most married individuals reported a positive impact on their marriage.
Dr. William Yarber, Senior Scientist at The Kinsey Institute and Provost Professor in the School of Public Health at IU Bloomington is among several members of the Kinsey Institute research team presenting their findings at the annual meeting of the Society for the Scientific Study of Sexuality in November. These findings are preliminary and have not yet been published in a peer-reviewed journal.
“What we found is even though many individuals experienced some stress from the pandemic, the overall marital emotional satisfaction stayed about the same for the majority of both men and women,” Yarber said. “However, more women experienced a decrease rather than increase in emotional and sexual satisfaction during the pandemic. Whereas, for men, about equal proportions experienced an increase and a decrease.”
Marital Satisfaction and Stress
- 74% of participants agreed the pandemic strengthened their marriage and 82% agreed it made them feel more committed to their marriage.
- 85% agreed the pandemic was helping them appreciate their spouse more, helping them appreciate what a good life they had before the pandemic, and was bringing their family together.
- 63% agreed the pandemic was stressing their family, 54% agreed it was testing their marriage and 35% agreed it was straining their relationship with their spouse.
- 21% agreed it was damaging their marriage, 20% agreed it was causing them to question their marriage and 16% agreed it was causing them to think about separation or divorce.
- 52% of women (52%), in either heterosexual or same-sex marriages reported they were having sex about as frequently as before coronavirus
- 24%reporting either more frequent and 24%reported less frequent sex.
- More men than women reported having sex more often since coronavirus, with significantly more men in same-sex marriages (55%) than in heterosexual marriages (35%) reporting this.
Both men and women reported engaging more in talking with their spouse about sex, sleeping in the same bed with their spouse, touching and cuddling.
Women’s Emotional & Sexual Satisfaction
- 17% of women reported a decrease while only 11% reported an increase in their satisfaction with the emotional aspects of their relationship with their spouse.
- 17% of women reported a decrease in sexual satisfaction, and 9% reported an increase.
- 72% reported no change in emotional satisfaction, and 74% reported no change in sexual satisfaction
Women’s decreases in emotional satisfaction were significantly correlated with higher ratings of overall stress because of coronavirus and increased work stress for their spouses. For men, decreases in emotional and sexual satisfaction were significantly correlated with increased work stress for themselves since the pandemic started, and higher levels of worry about their careers/jobs and finances.
“Early in the pandemic, the effects on gendered division of household and childcare labor can be seen as contributing to negative impacts of the coronavirus on marriages,” said Stephanie A. Sanders, Senior Scientist at the Kinsey Institute, Provost Professor and Chair of the Department of Gender Studies. “Although stress and worries related to the pandemic were correlated with negative impacts for both women and men, increased childcare and increased housework were correlated with negative impact for women, but not for men in heterosexual marriages.”
The researchers intend to conduct follow-up research to examine the long-term impact of the stress and social isolation of the pandemic on married individuals as it continues.
Read the full IU press release here https://research.impact.iu.edu/coronavirus/marriage-quality.html
Read more about the various studies underway in the Kinsey Institute’s COVID-19 research program: https://kinseyinstitute.org/research/covid-19.php