Relationship and Sexual Satisfaction in the First Year of the Covid-19 Pandemic

About the Article

In the second article of our project Love in Times of Covid we aimed to extend the findings from our first article by covering the period of one year in the pandemic. Based on the Vulnerability-Stress-Adaptation Model (Karney & Bradbury, 1995), we investigated the predictors of relationship and sexual satisfaction during the pandemic and examined the interactions between pandemic-related stressors and personal vulnerabilities

Time in the pandemic and severity of mobility restrictions were used as external stressors; negative emotionality, psychological symptoms, and anxious and avoidant attachment styles were included as personal characteristics. In addition, we also examinded whether living with children in the specific context of the pandemic could be a vulnerability amplifying the effect of external stressors. Only prospective measurement time points were included in the analyses, more specifically the measurement time points between April 2020 and March 2021 (N = 2,859).

Before analyzing the data, we replaced missing values with controlled imputation and then proceeded to answer our hypotheses using four multilevel models, one each to predict relationship and sexual satisfaction among cohabitating and non-cohabitating participants. 

Main Findings

CC BY-ND image by the Music, Emotion, Assessment, and Personality Lab

Consistent with our first article, our analyses showed that relationship and sexual satisfaction differed between cohabitating and non-cohabitating participant:s, not only in terms of mean satisfaction but also in terms of patterns of change over time. 

For cohabitating individuals, we observed slightly negative linear trends for both satisfaction measures, such that both relationship and sexual satisfaction in this group were below the norm values of the scale validation studies at the last measurement time point. 

Non-cohabitating individuals, on the other hand, showed a stronger negative linear trend related to relationship satisfaction and a quadratic trend related to sexual satisfaction: in this group, sexual satisfaction increased until November 2020 and then slightly decreased again – a trend that might correspond to the relaxed and re-established mobility restrictions.

Predictors of Relationship and Sexual Satisfaction

For both satisfaction measures, as negative predictors we identified time in the pandemic, avoidant and anxious attachment style, psychological symptoms, and longer relationship duration. Among cohabitating individuals, parenthood was also associated with lower relationship and sexual satisfaction. 

Pandemic-related mobility restrictions had no effect on relationship satisfaction, slightly negative effects on sexual satisfaction among non-cohabitating individuals, and surprisingly, slightly positive effects on sexual satisfaction among cohabitating individuals. 
Among cohabitating individuals, an interaction between time in the pandemic and parenthood also emerged as predictors of both satisfaction measures: thus, although individuals with children were generally more dissatisfied in their relationships and with their sex lives, those without children showed a greater decrease in their satisfaction. 
Among non-cohabitating individuals, we observed an interaction between time in the pandemic and avoidant attachment style as predictors of sexual satisfaction: the higher the level of avoidant attachment style, the lower the satisfaction in general, and the weaker the quadratic trend-that is, the recovery in sexual satisfaction by November 2020.

Cite this Article

Vigl, J., Talamini, F., Strauss, H., & Zentner, M. (2022). A Prospective Study of Relationship and Sexual Satisfaction During the First Year of the COVID‐19 Pandemic: The Role of Dispositional Vulnerabilities and External Stressors. Journal of Personality.