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How has the COVID-19 pandemic changed our sex lives?

It’s no question that the pandemic has upended our lives in every way imaginable, but what impact did it have on our sex and masturbation habits?

While a number of stories in the media may lead you to believe that everyone is buying more sex toys and having more sex, we have evidence that those bedrooms are not actually that buzzy. Sure, many of us are spending more time at home. But we think there are some very real implications from living through these unprecedented times.

The takeaway? COVID sex and its alleged sex toy boom is an ambiguous conclusion at best. Using Lioness Vibrator product usage as our guide, we’ve observed far more convincing evidence of a significant drop-off in masturbation frequency as the year wore on relative to 2019 for the same users.

We looked at anonymous aggregate usage statistics from 1879 Lioness users who were active in 2019 and 2020 and nearly 40,000 sessions recorded from January 1, 2019 through December 12, 2020. There were 19,578 total sessions in 2019 and 19,481 total sessions in 2020*. We supplemented this data with a user survey to better understand what’s going on from a qualitative perspective.

This report is not only the world’s largest physiological data set on sexual behaviors during the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s also the world’s biggest study done on real world, in-the-bedroom-where-sex-happens sex (rather than in the confines of a research laboratory) in general!

* 2020 measures up to December 12th, 2020. When December is compared to 2019 in this report, it is compared between Dec 1st-12th for both 2019 and 2020.

What is this data?

To be clear: this is an exploratory study with retrospective data—which can't prove causality.

However, most articles that we've read have been based on anecdotes and talked about an alleged sex boom during COVID with everyone staying home (with fewer articles about falling libido based on stress and depression).

We wanted to see if there would be interesting applications of the research platform related to COVID, and The Center for Genital Health and Education (CGHE) proposed looking at habits.

The data itself is from anonymous aggregate usage statistics from Lioness users (on the quantitative side) supplemented by a user survey (a convenience sample from the Lioness email list to get some qualitative understanding from the anonymized, aggregate data).

Pandemic Sex Findings

Masturbation Frequency 2019 to 2020 covid pandemic sex report

Masturbation frequency plummeted while the pandemic boomed

The 2019 data revealed an increase in masturbation frequency (per user per month), especially towards the latter half of the year. In 2020, however, there was a significant decline in frequency, most notably in the last few months of the year. For example, November 2020 showed a 37.78% decline in masturbation frequency when compared to frequency in November 2019.

Note 1: This graph is adjusted for average frequency per user in a given month.

Note 2: December is measured by Dec 1-12 for both 2019 and 2020. The difference within that same timeframe really is that stark.

The pandemic affected most user’s sex lives—for better or for worse

Nearly 80% of users (79.6%) reported that their masturbation frequency changed in 2020 versus 2019, while just over three quarters (76.7%) of users reported a change in sex frequency with a partner in 2020 versus 2019.

The user survey also found that, while some people were able to spend more time experimenting sexually (alone or with a partner) due to an increased amount of time spent at home, many reported a variety of reasons for why they masturbated and/or had sex less frequently.

Most reasons were due to the impacts of the pandemic, not suffering from the disease itself:

Poor self-care:

“I did purchase several new toys this year however I think overall I masturbated less. I don’t know what maybe it was cause my sleep schedule was off some months then my depression kicked up a little and I just wasn’t interested.”

Anxiety / Stress:

“I'm not really sure. It just seems I haven't been in the right headspace at times.”

Less time for privacy due to an increase of family members or roommates home at one time:

“Spouse and children in the house all the time. Don’t want buzzing sounds to filter through the house!”

Decrease in self-esteem/feeling less attractive:

“My sex life is primarily self-sex -- has been for many years. This year, in that way, was no different. However, I did gain 10 pounds during the pandemic, and I am less pleased with my own body, and so my frequency of masturbation has gone down in the last several weeks.”

Loss of a loved one:

“Since the death of my husband, masturbating generally left me in a puddle of my own tears and not wanting to touch myself. It was as if masturbating reminded me that he was no longer here. That he would never grace my body with the dances of his pleasures.”

Some users reported more interest in and had the ability to masturbate and have sex. Here are some of their reasons:

More time at home:

“Boredom, more time to explore myself, more self reflection, growth in self love.”

In a long-distance relationship and unable to visit their partner:

“I was intentionally trying to increase my erotic capabilities, and since I live apart from my partner, I was VERY sexually frustrated. Also it's a good stress reliever for me.”

Have a partner but their partner is experiencing a lower sex drive than theirs:

“My libido didn’t match up with my partner’s, and I wanted to feel in touch with my body.”

Being single and more difficulty dating:

“Being alone and not having opportunities to go out to meet a partner.”

Mood-boosting / Stress relief:

“Just wanted to feel something other than dread.”

In 2020, month-to-month frequency dropped 9.3% overall, with the biggest monthly dip being 25.8%.

In 2019, the holiday season showed an increase in masturbation frequency. In 2020, however, the biggest drop in frequency occurred at this time. This decrease aligned with the second surge of COVID cases and several states moving to more restrictive tiers of their pandemic response plans.

Masturbation Rating Increase 2019-2020 Lioness

The most common session rating in 2019 was a 4/5, while the most common rating in 2020 was a 5/5.

In addition to sharing data on their sexual responses, Lioness users are able to rate their sessions using a 5-star system (as well as take notes and add tags). This allows users to track things they do/don’t like and then look back over time to learn more about what they liked most or least.

Despite a decrease in session frequency, the most common rating for sessions in 2020 was 5 stars. 2019’s most common rating was 4 stars. As such, when Lioness users did rate a session*, they rated it higher than the previous year’s data shows.

*It’s important to note that this data comes from sessions that were rated; it is possible there are a number of unrated sessions with the potential to move these frequencies in different directions.

The average session rating from 2019 to 2020 was otherwise relatively similar (3.77 vs 3.88 respectively) with the change mainly in the distribution of ratings with more 5 vs 4 stars.

Masturbation Duration Increase 2019-2020 Lioness

Session duration increased between July and November 2020.

In early 2020, before lockdowns were put in place, sessions were shorter in duration. However, between July and November 2020, average session duration increased—which is roughly correlated to when US COVID cases spiked.

The following changes in session duration were observed:

  • Between February 2020 and April 2020, average session duration decreased by 20 seconds.
  • Between July 2020 and November 2020, average session duration increased by 30 seconds.

Session duration was longer in 2020 versus 2019.

A commonly asked question about sex and masturbation is how long a typical session can be.

Our data suggests the following changes in session duration.

  • In 2019, the average session was 6 minutes and 20 seconds (range: 10 seconds to 4.64 hours).
  • In 2020, the average session length was 6 minutes and 40 seconds (range: 10 seconds to 2.87 hours).
  • This suggests a statistically significant difference between the duration of sessions between 2019 and 2020 (for what it’s worth, p-value of -5.76e-05).

HEADS UP: The length of time you use the Lioness (or masturbate in general), how long it takes to reach orgasm, or how long the orgasm lasts are not necessarily indicative of what makes for “good” or “not so good” sex... Everyone is different in terms of what we like and don’t like so there can be any number of reasons for “good” vs “not so good” sessions. That said, we also know that factors like stress, alcohol and prescription/recreational drug use, poor diet, lack of exercise, or less than optimal health can all have a big impact on a person’s experience with sex as well as how satisfied they are overall with their own sexual activities.

Fun Side Note: Lioness Vibrator charger orders increased by 300% in 2020.

Something interesting to note — in 2020, spare charger orders increased by 300% compared to 2019. Most orders for these chargers were placed in March and April, around the start of the pandemic when people were encouraged to work from home if possible and limit traveling.

As businesses began to close and states enforced stay at home orders, sourdough bread was not the only thing rising.

At one point, due to so many more requests than usual, our team actually ran out of chargers. Once China reopened for business, we had to place an order of additional chargers as soon as we could to meet the demand. Fortunately, the timing worked in our favor and we weren’t out of stock for too long!

A special thank you to

👩🏾‍🔬 The Center for Genital Health and Education (CGHE) with Dr. Natasha Aduloju-Ajijola responsible for data analysis

👩🏼‍🎨 Emily Eder for illustrations

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