How the COVID pandemic impacted young people’s romantic and sexual relationships

Social distancing during the COVID pandemic has profoundly impacted the social lives of adolescents and young adults. We don’t know much yet about how the pandemic impacted their romantic and sexual relationships, which can have implications for young people’s development. New Bixby Center research is one of the first studies to examine the immediate impacts of social distancing on those relationships.

Researchers found that youth who were in romantic relationships spent less time in person with their partners during COVID than before. One quarter didn’t spend any time in person with their partners in the first 3 months of social distancing. Romantic relationships are central to adolescent development and prolonged separation can have lasting impacts.

They didn’t find any evidence that social distancing measures resulted in less partnered sex or increased online dating among young people. Most youth surveyed were not sexually active, doing online dating, or sexting before or during the pandemic.

Experiences in sexual and romantic relationships during COVID varied between adolescents and young adults. Young adults were more likely to spend time with their partners and to be sexually active before and during the pandemic.

These findings reinforce the importance of making sure that young people have access to sexual health education and care during the pandemic. While some youth have continued to be sexually active, COVID restrictions made birth control and other care more difficult to access.

“It makes it hard for me and my boyfriend but we text every day and try to make the most of it.”

(transgender, pansexual, age 16)

“I was finally starting to get around to dating, but COVID-19 really put a stop on that."

(female, lesbian, gay, bisexual or queer, age 19)