How Covid-19 has triggered the dawn of sexless marriages
A few weeks after Kenya reported her first case of Covid-19, Patrice Omollo’s employer terminated the routine 9-5 work formula and launched a work-from-home formula. Coincidentally, Omollo’s wife who worked as a butler at a five-star luxury hotel in Nairobi was sent on half-pay leave. “It was a bitter-sweet experience. We would earn less than we did but spend more time together,” says Omollo, an internal audit assistant at a Nairobi publishing firm. For Omollo, 39, this should translate to more sex.
One year down the line, the sex Omollo was looking forward to is now virtually nonexistent. “Our intimacy got so dull that we no longer looked forward to it. It’s been two months since we were intimate,” he says.
Intimacy has been replaced by constant arguments and fights, mainly over finances. “Things started going wrong when my employer terminated my contract,” he says. By July, his wife was also let go as the hospitality industry became the most affected sector in the economy. “Instead of thinking about sex, we started contemplating where rent money and next week’s food would come from,” he says.
There has been diminished sexual satisfaction among married couples in Kenya. Professor Joachim Osur, a sexual health expert and sex columnist, says that this is indicative of the mental stress and anxiety that many couples are going through.
“Sexual satisfaction is usually a reflection of general satisfaction with life. With Covid, there is less satisfaction with life. Monetary and health issues are taking a psychological toll on many people leading to low levels of general and sexual satisfaction,” he says.
Prof Osur led a recent study that shows a drop in sexual satisfaction. The number of married couples who experienced sexual satisfaction dropped to 58 percent after Covid-19, says the research titled The Effect of Covid-19 and its Control Measures on Sexual Satisfaction among Married Couples in Kenya.
Couples dissatisfied with their sex lives
Currently, nearly half of all married couples are dissatisfied with their sex lives compared to about a quarter of married couples before the pandemic.
The sexual satisfaction research by Professor Osur suggests that the dissatisfaction with sex is majorly a pointer to the falling quality of life among the most sexually active men aged between 31 and 50 years who live in areas where Covid-19 control measures are being stringently implemented. These areas currently include the counties of Nairobi, Kiambu, Nakuru, Machakos, and Kajiado.
“There is a discordance between what married people want and what they are experiencing,” the report said.
Psychologist consultant Oliver Kibet says that changes in sex drive have been one of the major symptoms of the onset of Covid-related depression. “Thousands of jobs have been lost, businesses have shut down, and the basic needs have become harder to attain. Throw in sex and not too many will be enthusiastic about it,” he says.
Data from the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics show that up to 1.7 million Kenyans had lost their jobs by June 2020. The hardest-hit sectors of the economy included export processing zones (EPZs), aviation, horticulture, tourism, and hotels. Currently, the cost of living in Kenya is at an 11-month high due to the increased cost of transportation.
Low sexual satisfaction is compounded by domestic violence. Professor Osur says that marriages are experiencing a rise in incidents of violence because mental issues are not being addressed through the right channels. “Apart from low sex drive, we have couples who are turning violent against each other,” he says.
Frequency is the other driver. For MaryAnne Wanja, too much sex has been the most contributing factor to her diminished sexual appetite and satisfaction. “The first few weeks were exciting, but over the months, quality has been replaced with quantity, which is a turn-off for me,” she says.
“I am too stressed trying to revive my business and all he wants is sex,” MaryAnne, 38, who ran a catering and bakery business, says that currently, she only gets intimate to fulfill her husband’s sexual needs and avoid arguments. “I feel worn out, but if I say no, he’ll throw a fit which I can’t accommodate right now,” she says.
In the new order, familiarity is breeding contempt. “Before Covid, my husband used to leave home at 6 am and return past 9 pm. When he started working from home, I thought it was romantic. Four months later, I started resenting seeing him around all the time,” says Milly Charo who has been married for three years.
“Getting intimate every so often made me feel like a sexual object,” she says. She was relieved when he returned to the office in January. But now her troubles are back at one! “With the current lockdown, he is working from home three days a week. I don’t have the energy for the surplus sex,” says the stay-at-home mother of one.
Couples report less satisfying sex lives
From ‘The Effect of Covid-19 and its Control Measures on Sexual Satisfaction among Married Couples in Kenya’ study, March 2021:
- 21.1 percent of married couples wanted sex less often after Covid-19 started
- Married couples who had regular satisfying sex dropped from 45.1 percent to 35.3 percent after Covid-19
- 41.6 percent of married couples are dissatisfied with their sex lives after Covid-19 as compared to 26.6 before the pandemic
Domestic violence on the rise
Cases of domestic violence have been on a sharp rise since the pandemic and measures to control it began. According to the ‘Shadow Pandemic: Violence against women during Covid-19’, research by the UN Women, over 243 million are now experiencing domestic violence globally at the hands of intimate partners. The contributing factors are: