Effects of Covid-19: The blows on sex lives in marriages

Cases of domestic violence have been on a sharp rise since the pandemic and when measures to control it began.

Cases of domestic violence have been on a sharp rise since the pandemic and when measures to control it began.

Note 1

Married couples who had regular satisfying sex dropped from 45.1 per cent to 35.3 per cent after Covid-19.

Note 2

26.6 per cent of married couples were dissatisfied with their sex lives before Covid-19 compared to 41.6 percent of married couples who were dissatisfied with their sex lives after Covid-19.

Note 3

Only 4.1 per cent of married couples wanted sex less often before Covid-19 compared to 21.1 per cent of married couples who wanted sex less often after Covid-19 started.

Note 4

73.4 per cent of married Kenyans in the research said that they were satisfied with their marital sex before Covid-19.

What you need to know:

  • According to the ‘Shadow Pandemic: Violence against women during Covid-19’, research by the UN Women, over 243 million people have been experiencing domestic violence globally at the hands of intimate partners.
  • Monetary and health issues are taking a psychological toll on many people leading to low levels of general and sexual satisfaction.

When the Covid-19 pandemic arrived in Kenya in March 2020 and people started working from home, couples who had lost their intimate touch got a golden opportunity to reconnect. Suddenly, there was adequate time to spend around each other, to communicate, and to get intimate. However, as the pandemic wore on, it bred familiarity among couples. The excitement of intimacy it had brought with it fizzled. Compounded by a tanking economy and rising job losses, sexual desire took a nosedive.

This was reflected in a study on the effect of the Covid-19 pandemic on sexual relationships in Kenya that was released in 2021. The study is known as The Effect of Covid-19 and its Control Measures on Sexual Satisfaction among Married Couples in Kenya. According to Professor Joachim Osur, a sexual medicine expert, who was the lead researcher in the study, there has been diminished sexual satisfaction among married couples in Kenya since the pandemic began.

Professor Osur says that this is indicative of the mental stress and anxiety that many couples are going through. “Sexual satisfaction is usually a reflection of general satisfaction with life. With Covid-19, there is less satisfaction with life. Monetary and health issues are taking a psychological toll on many people leading to low levels of general and sexual satisfaction,” he says. The research suggests that the dissatisfaction with sex is majorly a pointer to the falling quality of life among the most sexually active men aged between 31 and 50 years who live in areas where Covid-19 control measures were stringently implemented.

73.4 percent of married men in the research were satisfied with their marital sex before Covid-19. However, the number of married couples who experienced sexual satisfaction dropped to 58 percent after Covid-19 was reported in Kenya in 2020. Currently, nearly half of all married couples are dissatisfied with their sex lives compared to about a quarter of married couples who were dissatisfied with their sexual lives prior to Covid-19. 

This is echoed by psychologist consultant Oliver Kibet who says that changes in sex drive have been one of the major symptoms of the onset of Covid-19 related depression. “Covid-19 is the primary reason why people are on the brink of depression. Thousands of jobs have been lost, businesses have shut down, and the basic needs of food, shelter, and clothing have become harder to attain. Throw in sex and not too many partners will be enthusiastic about it,” he says.

Data from the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics (KNBS) shows that up to 1.7 million Kenyans had lost their jobs by June 2020. The number of people in employment fell to 15.87 million between April and the end of June 2020 compared to 17.59 million the previous quarter. The hardest-hit sectors of the economy included export processing zones (EPZs), aviation, horticulture, tourism, and hotels. Firms operating in export processing zones shed 8,135 jobs by June. 230,000 jobs in the tourism and hospitality sector were lost as businesses operated under minimum capacity or complete shutdown.

In addition, hundreds of thousands of unemployed Kenyans have given up looking for work. Data from the KNBS shows that up to 1.23 million people are no longer looking for work. The majority of these are young Kenyans aged between 20 and 29 years. The data also shows that as of March 2021, 2.5 million Kenyans aged 15 to 64 were jobless. According to Jacqueline Mugo, the Federation of Kenya Employers (FKE) executive director, this sad reality is a reflection of the economy right now. “So long as businesses have not fully recovered and people are facing uncertainties, chances of getting jobs remain slim.”  Incidentally, most sexually active people are aged between 18 and 64.

Apart from joblessness, low sexual satisfaction is compounded by domestic violence. From early 2020, the number of women undergoing domestic violence increased in tandem with the number of Covid-19 cases and lockdowns across the world. Locally, data from the national gender-based violence hotline 1195 which is run by Healthcare Assistance Kenya—an NGO that works with survivors of Gender-Based Violence—in partnership with the Ministry of Public Service and Gender, shows that calls reporting domestic violence increased by 301 percent in the first two weeks of Kenya’s semi lockdown in late March 2020. Incidents of sexual violence, physical assault, and psychological torture increased from 115 to 461 in the month of April alone. Data from FIDA-Kenya showed a spike in cases of gender violence with 289 cases recorded in the two weeks to May 2020, while the Centre for Rights Education Awareness also recorded 214 cases. The majority of victims have been women aged between 18 and 45. The National Crime Research Centre (NCRC) reported that the total number of GBV cases increased by 87.7 percent between April and June 2020, noting a significant increase of at least 30 percent in gender-based violence such as physical abuse, sexual abuse, emotional abuse, and child marriages. Professor Osur says that marriages are experiencing a rise in incidents of violence because mental issues are not being addressed through the right channels. “The result of unchecked mental and psychological stress is violence. So apart from low sex drive, we have couples who are turning violent against each other,” he says.

Globally, according to a Guardian media survey report on domestic violence at coronavirus hotspots, the rise in cases of abuse against women also spiked in other coronavirus hotspots such as Italy and Spain. “Being confined to home because of coronavirus is extremely difficult for everyone. It however becomes a real nightmare for women victims of gender-based violence,” the Italian General Confederation of Labour (IGCL) said on the abuse related to Covid-19.