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Original research
Love during lockdown: findings from an online survey examining the impact of COVID-19 on the sexual health of people living in Australia
  1. Jacqueline Coombe1,
  2. Fabian Yuh Shiong Kong1,
  3. Helen Bittleston1,
  4. Henrietta Williams1,2,
  5. Jane Tomnay3,
  6. Alaina Vaisey1,
  7. Sue Malta1,4,
  8. Jane L Goller1,
  9. Meredith Temple-Smith5,
  10. Louise Bourchier1,
  11. Andrew Lau1,
  12. Eric P F Chow1,2,6,
  13. Jane S Hocking1
  1. 1 Melbourne School of Population and Global Health, The University of Melbourne, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia
  2. 2 Melbourne Sexual Health Centre, Alfred Health, Carlton, Victoria, Australia
  3. 3 Centre for Excellence in Rural Sexual Health, Department of Rural Health, The University of Melbourne, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia
  4. 4 National Ageing Research Institute Inc, Parkville, Victoria, Australia
  5. 5 Department of General Practice, The University of Melbourne, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia
  6. 6 Central Clinical School, Monash University, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia
  1. Correspondence to Dr Jacqueline Coombe, Melbourne School of Population and Global Health, The University of Melbourne, Melbourne, VIC 3010, Australia; jacqueline.coombe{at}


Introduction Australia recorded its first case of COVID-19 in late January 2020. On 22P March 2020, amid increasing daily case numbers, the Australian Government implemented lockdown restrictions to help ‘flatten the curve’. Our study aimed to understand the impact of lockdown restrictions on sexual and reproductive health. Here we focus on sexual practices.

Methods An online survey was open from the 23PP April 2020 to 11P May 2020. Participants were recruited online via social media and other networks and were asked to report on their sexual practices in 2019 and during lockdown. Logistic regression was used to calculate the difference (diff) (including 95% CIs) in the proportion of sex practices between time periods.

Results Of the 1187 who commenced the survey, 965 (81.3%) completed it. Overall, 70% were female and 66.3% were aged 18–29 years. Most (53.5%) reported less sex during lockdown than in 2019. Compared with 2019, participants were more likely to report sex with a spouse (35.3% vs 41.7%; diff=6.4%; 95% CI 3.6 to 9.2) and less likely to report sex with a girl/boyfriend (45.1% vs 41.8%; diff=−3.3%; 95% CI −7.0 to -0.4) or with casual hook-up (31.4% vs 7.8%; 95% CI −26.9 to -19.8). Solo sex activities increased; 14.6% (123/840) reported using sex toys more often and 26.0% (218/838) reported masturbating more often. Dating app use decreased during lockdown compared with 2019 (42.1% vs 27.3%; diff= −14.8%; 95% CI −17.6 to -11.9). Using dating apps for chatting/texting (89.8% vs 94.5%; diff=4.7%; 95% CI 1.0 to 8.5) and for setting up virtual dates (2.6% vs 17.2%; diff=14.6%; 95% CI 10.1 to 19.2) increased during lockdown.

Conclusion Although significant declines in sexual activity during lockdown were reported, people did not completely stop engaging in sexual activities, highlighting the importance of ensuring availability of normal sexual and reproductive health services during global emergencies.

  • sexual health
  • sexual behaviour
  • infectious diseases

Data availability statement

No data are available.

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  • Handling editor Laith J Abu-Raddad

  • Twitter @jncoombe, @susanvmalta, @regressionmodel, @EricPFChow

  • Contributors All authors contributed to the design and development of the survey. JC was responsible for administering the survey. HB and JSH conducted the analysis. JC, HB, JSH and FYSK interpreted the results and drafted the manuscript. All authors contributed to the revision of draft iterations of the manuscript prior to submission.

  • Funding The authors have not declared a specific grant for this research from any funding agency in the public, commercial or not-for-profit sectors.

  • Competing interests EPFC reports grants from the National Health and Medical Research Council, outside the submitted work. JSH is supported by a National Health and Medical Research Council Fellowship (1136117).

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.