More stress - less sex in Latvia, study finds

The first wave of the Covid-19 pandemic has had an impact on Latvian couples' relations, sexual activity, reproductive health and the availability of related medical services, a study carried out by Latvian University and Rīga Stradiņš University found. 

Sexuality consists of three basic factors: biological, social and psycho-emotional. Covid-19 and the persistent restrictions could directly affect all three dimensions. Biological factors relate to the physical state of human health, which is more vulnerable during the pandemic. Anxiety experienced at this time can affect the psycho-emotional state. Social factors are affected by restrictions – social contacts are reduced, it is difficult to meet people and develop new relationships.

About the study

The study was conducted by Rīga Stradiņš University and University of Latvia within the framework of an international study I-SHARE (International Sexual Health And Reproductive Health) Survey” as one of 30 participant states.

The study was carried out in Latvia from July to December 2020.

966 females, 204 males and 3 representatives of other sexes participated in an online survey. The study also included 12 group discussions with members of the public and 13 interviews with authorities.

Increased tension in relationships

The study revealed that tensions - fear, worry, disputes - in relationships increased for one in four couples. Parents, educators and medics were particularly at risk due to workplace strains associated with the virus.

For the majority – 58% – the frequency of sexual relations remained unchanged, for 13.2% – decreased slightly, for – 6.9% decreased significantly. The frequency of sexual relations increased slightly for 17.7%, the frequency of sexual life increased slightly, and for 4.2% it increased significantly. For those whose tension in relationships increased, the frequency of sexual relations decreased.

Lower satisfaction with sexual life

The Covid-19 pandemic affected people's satisfaction with sexual life mostly negatively. Before Covid-19, 81.9% of respondents were satisfied with their sex life, 81.9% of respondents, but during the pandemic the number was  75.9%. There is a greater decline in satisfaction among women.

Satisfaction was affected at this time by a number of factors. One of these is the pressure. Another is alcohol consumption. During the first wave of Covid-19 in  Latvia, nearly one in five respondents began drinking more.

For those who consumed more alcohol at that time, satisfaction with sexual life also declined significantly.

Satisfaction was also affected by changes in employment status. More dissatisfied with sexual life were those respondents who lost their jobs or their business (21.2%) and also those who worked but whose workload was reduced (20.5%).

Pregnancy during pandemic

Pregnancy during a pandemic may, on the one hand, appear to be riskier, but, as it turned out during the first wave of Covid-19, it may be even safer, as many services are available online and the need to visit authorities and places in person was drastically reduced. 

Pregnant women, however, faced a number of challenges at this time. The most worrying of the restrictions affecting pregnant women was the prohibition of their partner or another person participating in giving birth in the large hospitals. Some women therefore even changed their plans and went to smaller hospitals where the restrictions were less strict. This is a worrying fact because pregnant women were thus deliberately exposing themselves to a higher risk from the point of view of maternity aid, as small hospitals might not provide all specific assistance. 

The real picture of the impact of the pandemic on the number of pregnancies will be revealed by annual statistics, but observations by gynecologist Ieva Briedīte show that it is already apparent that a Covid-19 baby boom is expected to occur. “The signs of pregnancy of this time are that they are planned and very welcome,” said the doctor.

Violence increased significantly

At the beginning of the spring restrictions, there were fears that there would be an increase in the number of cases of violence, especially domestic. The experts interviewed in the course of the study confirmed this: there was an extreme increase in the number of cases of violence during the first wave of the epidemic.

At the end of April, the number of help seekers at the abuse support center Marta had already doubled, while police reported that the number of violence-related calls had increased by 30%.

The main reason is that abusers and victims were close together and that the victim did not have the opportunity to break out of this environment in terms of social activities outside the home, or to get help. Victims were trapped at home with a violent partner, and some of the incidences of violence were extremely cruel, one unfortunately ended with the death of the attacked woman.

Worrying trends in STI

All related processes to sexual activity continue during pandemic, which means that contraception, pregnancy tests, STI and HIV testing, and everything else related to reproductive and sexual health is also needed at this time. However, there were several groups of patients who were more severely affected by the Covid-19 crisis, precisely due to their state of health and access to services at this time. The study highlights two worrying issues at the time: limiting medical services had significantly reduced the potential to terminate unwanted pregnancies; and STI and HIV testing points were closed.

Around 25% of HIV and STI patients reported they couldn't perform tests for these diseases during the restrictions.

Special attention should be paid to avoid stopping HIV testing during the epidemic, because Latvia has the highest rates of HIV in Europe, and we are also in the first place as the country with the most new cases of HIV – almost every day one person learns that he or she is infected with HIV. It is very important for people to be informed of HIV infection as soon as possible so that they can start treatment early and avoid infecting other people.

Why a study on sexual life is needed

In the spring, during the first wave, there were not only social and domestic restrictions, but also limited access to a variety of health and health-related services. Seeing the impact of this limited access to medical services on people's daily lives that can lead to dangerous situations, there was a need to measure these issues in numbers and to understand how to act more safely and more in line with people's needs in the next crisis.

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