Man and woman on bed about to have sex

The great sex recession: How the current climate has changed casual sex trends

  • 1 in 3 Brits are having less sex compared to 2018 (pre-pandemic)
  • A third say it’s harder to build physical connections
  • 59% of people ‘worry’ about casual dating post-lockdown
  • 1 in 3 people admit to masturbating MORE than TWICE as much as before

Is the UK in a sex recession? According to our latest survey, it appears to be so.

Vivastreet surveyed over 13,000 adult Brits from ages 18 to 75 to understand how casual sex trends have changed since the pandemic. 

Here’s what the sexual landscape looks like post-lockdown.


Man and woman having casual sex on bed

The Great British sex drought

When asked how much sex they were having in comparison to 2018 (pre-pandemic), around 1 in 3 Brits said they were having less sex

Both 36% of married people and 36% of singletons said they were having less sex overall.

After a successful COVID-19 vaccination rollout, which has meant people can once again enjoy social gatherings and the company of others, it seems surprising that people are not having as much sex as before.

The decline in sex is not a surprise to Clinical Sexologist Dr Claudia Six, who cites stress as a “huge factor” behind the lack of sex for both singletons and couples. “When going to the grocery store is a potentially life and death proposition, sex takes a back seat,” she says. 

For single people”, she continues, “the field of viable partners narrowed significantly, with the fear and unknown variables of COVID contagion.

With the added worry of the new variant of the virus Omicron rapidly rising in the UK, it’s likely to be even harder for people to break through this dry spell.

This changing climate has likely made it more difficult for people to form physical relations, highlighted by the survey’s findings, where more than a third of people said it is harder to build a physical connection with someone now, than three years ago


Dr Claudia Six speaks on the impact of lockdown on relationships


The lack of human touch caused by the pandemic, which many have cited as a ‘touch starvationcould be partly to blame.

Studies have shown that ‘touch’ is fundamental for human communication, bonding, and our physical and emotional wellbeing. 

According to Psychologist at the University of Oxford Professor Robin Dunbar, physical contact is part of the mechanism we use to set up our relationships, friendships and family memberships.

As one of the five love languages, physical touch makes us feel happier, safer and more trusting of others. Without it, it can cause mental health issues, such as stress, anxiety and depression as well as weaken our close relationships with one another.

A dry spell for married couples

As previously highlighted, the sex drought was not just reserved for singletons, with more than 1 in 3 married couples also experiencing a dry spell between the sheets and having less sex

When asking why they felt they were having less sex compared to 2018, 12% cited having a ‘sexless marriage’ as the reason.

The pressures from remote working, homeschooling, financial concerns and being away from family and friends likely played a significant role in the diminish of couple’s sex lives.

Amanda Rimmer from the Family Law team at Stephensons states that “the stresses and strains of this so-called ‘new normal’ have understandably put a heavy burden on people’s lives and for some their relationships have buckled under that pressure.

As a matter of fact, aside from insufficient sex, the lockdown was the catalyst for increased break-ups and divorce rates in the UK and around the world. 


Johnny Cassell speaks on the impact of lockdown on relationships


Leading British law firm Stewarts recorded a 122% increase in divorce enquiries between July and October 2020 compared to the same period in the previous year.

Married couples or people that live with their partner “we’re just as likely to want to rip their head off than rip their clothes off after suddenly spending every second of every day together”, tells Dating Coach Johnny Cassell

To maintain a healthy relationship, “distance does, it seems, make the heart grow fonder.

Dr Claudia agrees, stating that when lockdown forces couples together, it can be more than they bargained for. A form of ‘familiarity breeds contempt’.”

The death of the office fling

A by-product of the pandemic, remote working has become the new normal for many Brits. 

Statista reported that people who mainly work from home rose to 17.4% in the UK compared to the previous year at 14.2%.

But it seems as though the introduction of remote working may have severely impacted hook-up culture. 

A whopping 47% of respondents said they were now less likely to have casual sex through the office when compared to three years ago.

It goes without saying that most Brits were likely spending a huge proportion of their lives in the workplace prior to the pandemic, making it an easy and convenient place to meet romantic prospects.

In 2020, The HR Director reported that 66% of Brits had been romantically involved with a colleague. 


Couple being intimate at work


To understand just how much remote working has impacted sexual relations, we asked people if they had ever had casual sex with a work colleague.

An impressive 40% of people admitted to having had casual sex with a former colleague, while 30% said that this eventually led to a long-term casual relationship.

The notion of workplace hookup culture is backed by Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who only recently heavily implied that young people will flock back to offices to have sex, stating: “sound evolutionary reason why mother nature does not like working from home”.

The impact of remote working on Brits’ sex lives does not come as a shock to Dr Claudia, who says: “For those who are having sex with co-workers, the obvious reason is access. You don’t have to look very far and there’s regular contact.

The days of social interactions with our fellow colleagues may soon cease to exist. Many companies are choosing to permanently implement remote working, with others looking to follow suit in the near future.

According to Bloomberg, almost half of London firms expect their staff to work from home five days a week once the pandemic is over.

So, those who once heavily relied on office hookups will have to rethink their strategy in forging sexual relations.


Dr Claudia Six speaks on the relationships between sex and work-hookup culture

Sexual confidence at its lowest

So has the current climate impacted people’s confidence when it comes to casual sex? It seems so. 

When asked how they feel about casual dating post-lockdown, although a third of people who identified as single said they were excited of the prospect of getting back into the dating game, 59% admitted to feeling ‘worried’.

According to the findings, 14% of singletons feel anxious about casual dating post-lockdown, 20% are nervous, and 24% admit to feeling like they don’t know how to act in this social environment

Johnny reassures that, “if you’re feeling anxious about your first date in a while, that’s normal.” Heightened emotions and concerns caused by lockdown and loneliness are “yet to heal”.

“​​We can expect to be a bit rusty when we first get out there,” he says. “It may take getting a few bad dates out the way before we get back into the swing of things and stop feeling awkward around – gasp – REAL people!

In general, whether it be isolation, financial stress, or unhealthy lockdown habits, the pandemic has brought on sudden changes and challenges, impacting our mental health as a result.

In mid-2020, The Health Foundation announced that 69% of UK adults report feeling somewhat or very worried about the way COVID-19 is affecting their life. 

Many social lives have also been depleted, meaning people have been forced to communicate digitally, causing social anxiety and chipping away at our confidence and self-esteem as a result. 


Johnny Cassell speaks on dating after lockdown


Ironically, while people are concerned about meeting up with others, sex itself is the very thing we need to boost our confidence and mental health. According to Dr Claudia, “sex makes you feel happy, confident, wanted, desired, attractive. It boosts self-esteem and morale, and puts a bounce in your step.”  

Having less sex can cause these positive emotions to flag, which is why “being well laid is an antidote to such neuroses.

Along with confidence, has this decline in sex had any other impact on Brits? 

From a psychological perspective on relationships, there’s no doubt. “With nobody to gawk at in person for months, intellectual interactions and emotional maturity have been placed in higher regard,” expresses Johnny. 

Being sex-starved has made many people realise “how of little intrinsic value it really is on its own. Instead, people are thinking more long-term and looking for those ‘Keeper Features’ in potential partners – does he cook? Can she speak her mind without arguing? Is he financially stable? What do they add to my life?

Lonely after lockdown

Along with the impact on mental health, the current climate may also have impacted our friendships. 

A survey conducted by YouGov in 2020 revealed that mutual friends were the second-best way to meet a partner.

According to our survey results, 40% of single people believe they are far less likely to meet someone through a friend or family member in comparison to three years ago

A year of social isolation has likely contributed to people feeling isolated from their loved ones including friends, evident by another study by YouGov which found that “61% of Britons say they now feel less close than before the coronavirus pandemic.”

The chances of meeting someone through loved ones was even less for older people. 60% of survey respondents aged between 55-75 said they were less likely to meet someone through friends or family now than three years ago.

This coincides with a review this year by 10 leading charities, who found that a “million people over 65 in the UK are likely to remain at risk of chronic loneliness despite the easing of coronavirus restrictions.”


Lonely woman laying in bed

Self-love offers a helping hand

If having casual sex has become more difficult, it seems that for many Brits masturbation has given them a helping hand in self-pleasure. 

Nearly 50% of respondents admitted to increasing masturbating habits, with 1 in 3 people admitting to masturbating more than twice as much as three years ago.

More interestingly, women are masturbating more than men. Our survey revealed that 29% of women are masturbating five times more than before as opposed to just 12% of men.

These findings come as no surprise – last year a study by sex toy brand LELO, discovered that 56% of people masturbated once a day in lockdown resulting in sex toys sales skyrocketing by 73% since the lockdown began.

At a time like this, Dr Claudia is not surprised that people are masturbating more because “masturbation is easy”. Unlike physical intimacy with another person, masturbation means, “you don’t have to deal with another person’s desires, moods, willingness, preferences, communication style, bad breath… and it’s a common self-soothing strategy when faced with increased stress. If you’re home more, you have more opportunity.

Although “masturbation is completely normal and healthy, no matter how much you want to do it,” according to sexologist Gigi Engle, there are some risks linked with excessive masturbation habits on a person’s sex life. 

In a relationship, this may not go down well, agrees Dr Claudia, “there will be spouses whose feelings get hurt by a mate choosing masturbation over them.” However, that is likely “a relationship issue that goes deeper than how much masturbation is happening”.


Dr Claudia Six speaks on increased masturbation habits after lockdown


For singletons, self-pleasure may cause them to lose interest or not feel as eager to pursue a sexual relationship with someone.

Along with an increase in masturbation, porn consumption has also seen an increase. 

Our survey revealed that more than half of Brits admit to watching more porn compared to three years ago, with 1 in 3 watching TWICE as much porn

Media regulator Ofcom also revealed that half of UK adults watched more online porn during the COVID-19 outbreak.

According to their findings, in 2020 26 million people viewed adult content with adult sites like PornHub attracting a larger audience than mainstream television channels, such as Sky One and ITV4. 

Adult sites & apps are the way forward

When asked where they go to look for casual sex, hook-up sites & apps were by far the most popular with 56% of singletons using these types of platforms to get laid.

When asked how this compares to three years ago, 35% said they are much more likely to use hookup sites/apps now compared to three years ago.

While our lifestyles became busier from heavy workloads, busy social calendars and financial worries, many of us also lack confidence, making finding a sex partner online an easier option.


Johnny Cassell speaks on new attitudes towards relationship since lockdown

Pandemic-era sex is here to stay 

With the new COVID variant now a concern in the UK, it looks like more Brits will continue to have less sex – alas the age of casual hookups will continue to die a slow death.  

Johnny believes that “we may be looking at a love revolution.” With all the changes we’ve experienced since the pandemic, such as working from home, perhaps lockdown has taught us a lesson about relationships.

As we currently experience a change in consciousness, “people crave what lockdown has taken from them; stability and security,” he says, which is not sustainable in casual hookup relationships.

In the meantime, to prevent the current climate from impacting your sex life, when it comes to dating, Johnny advises that “if you’re worried about screwing up – let it happen! Once the novelty has worn off, you’ll feel comfortable in your own skin again.

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