A study conducted by Boston University has shown that COVID-19 affects sexual function in women, particularly those with long-lasting symptoms. The study, which involved over 2,000 cisgender women, revealed that the coronavirus disease can negatively impact sexual function.
„If you are ill with COVID, you might have less interest in sex and your body may be less prepared for sexual activity. But what might surprise some people is that long-term COVID symptoms can actually have a physiological and psychological impact on women’s sexual health.“
– Amelia M. Stanton, Assistant Professor of Psychology and Neuroscience at the BU College of Arts & Sciences
This study is the first to highlight the effects of long-term COVID on women’s sexual health. Stanton, an expert in sexual and mental health, led the research along with colleagues from Middlebury College, McLean Hospital, and the University of Vermont. The findings were recently published in the Journal of Sexual Medicine.
Long COVID and Sexual Dysfunction
To gauge the impact of COVID on intimacy, Stanton and her team conducted an online survey. Results showed that women who had been ill with COVID experienced reduced desire, arousal, lubrication, and overall satisfaction compared to those who hadn’t been ill. While orgasm and pain scores showed no significant differences between the two groups, those with long COVID had „an average FSFI full score in the dysfunctional range.“ They exhibited significantly worse levels of arousal, lubrication, orgasm, and pain.
Stanton said, „I hope it validates that when women are searching for ’sex long COVID,‘ something now will come up. Sex, sexuality, and sexual function are still relatively taboo subjects. But this provides patients with something they can bring to their providers and say, ‚I’m experiencing this,‘ and potentially initiate an open dialogue about sex.“
The study also speculates that broader societal changes caused by the pandemic, such as reduced social events and children being at home, may be contributing factors as they limit opportunities for sexual activities.
Discussing Sexual Health
While the study found a potential link between COVID illness and women’s sexual health, earlier BU studies have shown that COVID-19 vaccination does not affect fertility, pregnancy chances, or menstruation. However, a study revealed that men who tested positive for COVID in the last 60 days had reduced fertility.
Stanton leads the BU Program on Sexual, Reproductive, and Mental Health Disparities, focusing on research concerning sexual and mental health in marginalized and minority populations. Future research may include expanding the study to include gender minority diversity, speaking to women about their qualitative experiences, and developing tools to help providers better support their patients.
Stanton added, „I always encourage providers to start conversations about sex. If someone comes to us due to long COVID illness, perhaps ask, ‚How are you doing sexually?‘ Asking that one question could open the door for people to say, ‚You know, I’ve been embarrassed to say that this has been an issue, and I really need help.‘ However, we can convey to people that there is hope and strategies – their symptoms are meaningful and relevant, and it’s important to talk about them.“
Seehuus, M., et al. (2023). The effects of COVID-19 and Long-COVID on sexual function in cisgender women. The Journal of Sexual Medicine. doi.org/10.1093/jsxmed/qdad155.