Important milestones - including romantic/sexual relationship development - were impacted by COVID19 mitigation measures. We examined self-reported change in relationship status before, during and after COVID among AYA who participated in a 30-country survey.
Data were drawn from the International Sexual Health And REproductive Health Survey (I-SHARE-1), a multi-country, cross-sectional, online study conducted to assess the impact of the pandemic on adult sexual health across the globe. Participants were recruited through local, regional, and national networks (e.g. listservs of professional organizations and international health organizations, social media, etc.) of each country’s research team. We drew a subsample of AYA (N=7527 18-26 years; 32.3% of the total sample; 60.1% female, 86.1% cisgender, 77.1% heterosexual). We examined 5 categories of relationship status change: 1) unpartnered pre/post; 2) unpartnered pre, new partner post; 3) same partner pre/post; 4) partnered pre, broke up, unpartnered post; 5) partnered pre, broke up, new partner post. Random intercept mixed effects multinomial regression (gllamm; Stata 17.0; all p<.05) adjusted for country-level clustering was used to understand how demographic (age, gender identity, sexual identity, employment status during COVID, mental health, distancing or isolation during COVID) and country-level predictors (income group, Oxford Stringency Index [national response to COVID], Palma Ratio [country-income inequality) and Gender Inequality Index (country-gender inequality) were associated with relationship change.
15% of AYA had no partner pre/post COVID, 5% were unpartnered pre-COVID with new partner post. 63.3% had the same partner pre/post, whereas 11.3% had a partner pre-COVID, but broke up and had no new partner post-COVID. Less than 5% had a new partner post-COVID after breaking up with their pre-COVID partner. Of those who broke up with their partner, the majority ended during (44.4%) or after (26.6%) COVID-lockdowns, and one-third thought social distancing precipitated the relationship’s end. Older (RRR=0.86-0.91), female (RRR=0.32-0.63) and transgender AYA (RRR=0.10-0.37) all had a lower risk, and sexual minority AYA had a higher risk (RRR=1.35-1.51), of being in all status categories compared to being in the same relationship before-and-after COVID. Higher mental health scores were linked to lower probability of being unpartnered pre/post as compared to being partnered pre/post (RRR=0.89-0.82). Social-distancing was associated with a lower risk for pre-COVID unpartnered individuals finding new post-COVID relationships (RRR=0.76) or of partnered individuals breaking up, while ever being in isolation was associated with higher risk of being unpartnered pre/post (RRR=1.20). Higher country income was associated with being unpartered pre-COVID (RRR=0.08-0.12) and higher risk of having a pre-COVID relationship break-up (RRR=1.32). Unpartnered individuals in countries with higher lockdown stringency had a greater probability of finding a new post-COVID relationship (RRR=1.13).
COVID measures were associated with AYA relationships both initiating and ending. Strategies for relationship development/support should be included as part of preparation for future public health emergencies.
© 2022 Published by Elsevier Inc.