Sexual Desire in the Time of COVID-19: How COVID-Related Stressors Are Associated with Sexual Desire in Romantic Relationships

Rhonda N. Balzarini, Amy Muise, Giulia Zoppolat, Amanda N. Gesselman, Justin J. Lehmiller, Justin R. Garcia, Richard B. Slatcher, Kristen P. Mark

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

10 Scopus citations


The COVID-19 pandemic and the resulting social distancing measures have caused widespread social and economic disruptions, resulting in spikes in unemployment and financial instability, along with drastic changes to people's ability to feel socially connected. Many of the changes resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic are risk factors for depressive symptoms, which are associated with lower levels of sexual desire. The current research (N = 4,993) examined whether responses to external stressors brought on by COVID-19 (i.e., financial concern, worry, loneliness, stress) were associated with sexual desire among a multi-national sample of people in relationships (Studies 1–2), and whether this association was, in part, due to reports of depressive symptoms (Study 2). In the period immediately following the onset of the pandemic, more financial concern (Study 1) and worry (Study 2) were associated with higher sexual desire, while other factors, like stress (Studies 1–2), were associated with lower desire. We also followed a subset of participants every two weeks during the initial stages of the pandemic and at times when people reported greater stress, loneliness, financial strain, or worry than their average, they reported greater depressive symptoms, which was, in turn, associated with lower sexual desire. Results suggest that the social isolation and stress resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic have mixed associations with sexual desire at the onset of the pandemic. But over time, when people report heightened COVID-related stressors, they tend to report lower sexual desire for their partner, in part because these stressors are associated with more depressive symptoms.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)3823-3838
Number of pages16
JournalArchives of sexual behavior
Issue number8
StatePublished - Nov 2022

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2022, The Author(s), under exclusive licence to Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature.


  • COVID-19
  • Financial strain
  • Loneliness
  • Romantic relationships
  • Sexual desire
  • Stress


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