How COVID-19 Could Impact Women’s Sex Lives, According To First-Of-Its-Kind Study

COVID-19 and long COVID could be detrimental to women’s sex lives. New research suggests that infection with coronavirus may be linked to sexual dysfunction in cisgender women – with levels of desire, arousal, lubrication, and satisfaction all appearing to be negatively affected.

Plenty of studies have highlighted the impact that COVID can have on our health – from brain fog to purple legs to destroying our ability to exercise – but not so many have focused on our sexual health, particularly in women. In fact, the researchers believe this is the very first to highlight the effects of long COVID on women’s sex lives.

Led by Amelia M. Stanton, an expert on sexual and mental health and assistant professor of psychological and brain sciences at Boston University, the study recruited more than 2,000 cisgender women, finding that having experienced COVID, and particularly long COVID, was associated with impaired sexual function.

“If you’re sick with COVID, you’re probably less interested in sex and maybe your body is less prepared to have sex,” Stanton said in a statement. “But what might be surprising to some folks is that long COVID symptoms really may have a physiological and psychological impact on sexual well-being for women.”

The team compared the sexual function of women who had never had COVID, with those who had had COVID but not long COVID, and those who did have long COVID using an online survey called the Female Sexual Function Index (FSFI). The quiz measures factors like arousal and satisfaction by asking questions such as: “Over the past four weeks, how often did you feel sexual desire?” Data from 1,313 participants was included in the final analysis.

In the group of women who’d had COVID, desire, arousal, lubrication, and satisfaction were all found to be lower than in the group who hadn’t, and this was even more extreme in the group who had long COVID.

FSFI scores for orgasm were also significantly lower in the long COVID group than the only COVID group, while pain scores were higher.

“Women with long COVID experienced incrementally more impaired sexual function than women with COVID-19 who did not develop long COVID,” the researchers write in their paper, concluding that: “COVID-19 infection may be associated with impairment of both cognitive and physiological aspects of sexual function.”

They also investigated whether long COVID symptoms and/or emotional distress mediate the relationship between COVID-19 history and sexual function, but they didn’t find any evidence to support this.

While the study is purely correlational, and has a number of limitations, including the inclusion of only cisgender women and not transgender or gender-diverse people, for whom sexual function is “chronically understudied”, the team hopes that their findings will prove insightful, for both clinicians and patients.

“Clinicians treating cisgender women who have COVID-19 should consider proactively discussing sexual function with their patients and offering available resources,” they suggest. Meanwhile, Stanton added, “this offers something patients can bring to their providers and say, ‘This is going on for me,’ and maybe create an open dialogue around sex.”

Unfortunately, sex is still a relatively taboo subject, but researchers such as Stanton are working hard to change that.

“I hope [our research] validating. If women type in ‘sex long COVID,’ something will come up now.”

The study is published in the Journal of Sexual Medicine.

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