Like many important aspects of health and wellbeing, sexual and reproductive health (SRH) has been greatly affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. Measuring and monitoring SRH is crucial given the potential for drastic changes in people's behaviours and in the delivery of SRH services.
The initial response to COVID-19 involved a rapid contraction of SRH services, with many halted (e.g., asymptomatic STI testing) and only people with severest symptoms seen face-to-face. During the first nationwide lockdown (from 23rd March 2020), UK citizens were effectively banned from intimate contact with anyone outside their household for a three-month period. The Natsal-COVID study aims to provide high-quality data to assess how these measures impacted sexual and reproductive health.
The Natsal-COVID study team has worked with Ipsos MORI to run two web-panel surveys. We used quota-based sampling and weighting with the aim of obtaining a quasi-representative sample of the British population.
Wave 1 was conducted in July 2020 and surveyed 6,500 people aged 18-59 years across Britain to capture data on sexual behaviour, sexual relationships and service use during the four months following the first national lockdown in March 2020.
Wave 2 was conducted from 27 March to 26 April 2021 and surveyed 6,500 participants aged 18-59 years one year after the start of the first UK lockdown with the aim to capture data on the longer-term impacts of the pandemic. Data were collected for key SRH outcomes, including chlamydia/HIV testing, pregnancy and abortion, and intimate partner violence. Wave 2 included 2000 individuals who also participated in Wave 1 to enable both longitudinal and cross-sectional comparisons.
We carried out qualitative follow-up interviews with 45 survey participants who agreed to re-contact. Qualitative interviews were conducted with survey participants who reported:
- sexual activity with someone in a different household during the first lockdown and subsequent restrictions
- difficulties accessing sexual and reproductive health services.
- relational difficulties with their partner
By using quotas, we ensured variation by age, gender, ethnicity and region of Britain.
*The final weight used for analysis in the Natsal-COVID study was updated after publication of this technical report. Therefore, the weight described in the technical report is out-of-date. Publications of Natsal-COVID methods will describe the final weighting information.
Pre-prints of papers from Natsal-COVID (wave 1)
Intimate Physical Contact between People from Different Households During the COVID-19 Pandemic: A Mixed-Methods Study from a Large, Quasi-Representative Survey (Natsal-Covid) - here
Initial Impacts of COVID-19 on Sex Life and Relationship Quality in Steady Relationships in Britain: Findings From a Large, Quasi-Representative Survey (Natsal-COVID) - here
Initial Impacts of COVID-19 on Sexual Behaviour in Britain: Findings from a Large, Quasi-Representative Survey (Natsal-COVID - here
Initial Impacts of COVID-19 on Sexual and Reproductive Health Service Use and Unmet Need in Britain: Findings from a Large, Quasi-Representative Survey (Natsal-COVID) - here
This video presentation is from the Natsal-COVID study webinar on November 30th and shows the study's preliminary findings. These describe changes in sexual partnerships and practices, impacts on SRH services and on relationships, and the extent to which intimacy needs have affected COVID risk.
Here you can see our presentations on preliminary results, presented at the BASHH/BHIVA conference 2021.