Study shows long COVID’s hidden effect on women’s sex lives

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From work to school to socializing, COVID-19 has affected almost every part of our lives-; And now Boston University research shows that includes what happens in the bedroom. A study of more than 2,000 cisgender women found that coronavirus disease can disrupt sexual function, with prolonged covid having an especially damaging effect.

If you are sick with covid, you are probably less interested in sex and maybe your body is less ready for sex. But what may be surprising to some people is that prolonged Covid symptoms can really have an emotional and psychological impact on sexual well-being for women.”

Amelia m. Stanton, assistant professor of psychological and brain sciences in the BU College of Arts and Sciences

While previous studies have investigated the impact of the pandemic on people’s sex lives—particularly among men—Stanton says this is the first study to highlight the long-term impact of Covid on women’s sexual health. An expert in sexual and mental health, she led the study with researchers at Middlebury College, McLean Hospital and the University of Vermont. The results of the study were recently published Journal of Sexual Medicine.

Prolonged covid and sexual dysfunction

To gauge the impact of COVID on intimacy, Stanton and his colleagues conducted an online survey. About half of the women who took part reported that they had never had Covid, while the rest said they had tested positive. Participants were questioned using the Female Sexual Function Index (FSFI), an established tool that measures factors such as arousal and satisfaction with questions such as, “In the past 4 weeks, how often have you felt sexual desire?” Only women who had sex in the previous month were included in the results.

Among those who had covid, levels of desire, arousal, lubrication and satisfaction were lower than those who did not; Orgasm and pain scores were not significantly different between the two groups. But while women in the covid group were still classified within the index’s functional range, participants with longer covid had “mean FSFI full scale scores in the dysfunctional range,” according to the researchers. They found women with longer covid-; A widespread state of cognitive and physical symptoms that persist for weeks, sometimes months, after the initial infection-; There were significantly worse arousal, oiliness, orgasm and pain scores.

“I hope it becomes legal. If women type in ‘sex long covid,’ now something will come up,” said Stanton, who is also a clinical health psychologist at The Fenway Institute, a Boston clinic focused on the health of sexual and gender minorities. . “Sex, sexuality, and sexual function are still relatively taboo topics. But this offers something that patients can bring to their providers and say, ‘This is going on for me,’ and maybe create an open dialogue around sexuality.”

In their paper, Stanton and his colleagues said the findings suggest that “Covid-19 infection may be associated with impairments in both cognitive and physiological aspects of sexual function.” Just as the body and mind can take some time to fire on all cylinders when it comes to work, study, and exercise, the same can apply to sex. They also hypothesize that greater social change caused by the pandemic may be a factor, with fewer social events and kids hanging out at home reducing opportunities for shared or solo sexual activity.

Talking about sex

Although a Covid infection can affect women’s sexual health, previous BU research has shown that the vaccine does not cause infertility, reduce the chance of pregnancy or significantly affect menstruation.

“Covid-19 vaccination in either partner is not associated with fertility in couples trying to conceive through intercourse,” said Amelia Wesselink, SPH research assistant professor of epidemiology. the edge 2022 while discussing his study on vaccines and fertility. The same study found that men who tested positive for Covid within the past 60 days had reduced fertility.

Stanton is principal investigator of BU’s Sexual, Reproductive, and Mental Health Disparities Program-; An effort to explore the sexual and mental health of minority and marginalized populations; And said that possible future directions for the recent project are to expand the sexual and gender minority diversity of research, talk to women about their qualitative experiences, and design tools to help them provide better support to their patients.

“I’m an interventionist, so I always think about intervention design as a next step,” says Stanton. In other research, she is working to develop new methods that clinicians can use to talk to their patients about sex, as well as study how to improve sexual well-being and mental health in low-resource communities.

“I always encourage providers to start the conversation about sex,” says Stanton. “If they have someone who’s been coming in for covid for a long time, maybe ask, ‘How are you having sex?’ Asking a question can open the door for people to say, ‘You know, I’m embarrassed to say this is going on, and I really need help.’ Either way we can reiterate to people that there is hope and there are strategies—your symptoms are meaningful and relevant, and it’s important to talk about them.”


Journal Reference:

Cihuas, M., etc (2023). Effects of COVID-19 and prolonged covid on sexual activity in cisgender women The Journal of Sexual Medicine.

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