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 recent 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 worked with Ipsos MORI to run a web-panel survey of 6,500 people aged 18-59 years across Britain, capturing data on sexual behaviour, sexual relationships and service use during the four months following the first national lockdown in March 2020.
Wave 1 took place in July 2020.
Ipsos MORI administered the survey using panel members and strong quality controls, with population-representative quotas (age within sex; partnership status within sex; religion; social grade; educational status).
Most survey questions were adapted from rigorously tested Natsal-4 questionnaire items (the Natsal-4 survey was paused due to COVID-19). We also developed new questions tailored to measuring were developed to measure SRH in the context of Covid-19 and social restrictions.
We carried out qualitative follow-up interviews with 45 survey participants who agreed to re-interview. via videocall or phone, to follow-up survey participants to understand the context of risk, unmet need, and relational difficulties.
Qualitative interviews aimed to explore:
- the impact of lockdown and social restrictions on people's intimate needs, by interviewing people who reported sex with someone outside of household since social restrictions were implemented in March.
- the circumstances and consequences of unmet SRH needs, by interviewing participants who reported needing, but being unable to access, services such as STI testing, contraception, condoms, abortion, PreP and HIV medication.
- relational difficulties, by interviewing participants living with their partner during lockdown and who reported arguments or other problems in their relationship.
By using quotas, we ensured variation by age, gender, ethnicity and region of Britain.
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.