COVID-19 affecting sexual and reproductive health in young adults

Social distancing and limited access to contraceptive during the COVID-19 pandemic is affecting the sexual and reproductive health of adolescents and young adults, say researchers.

The researchers from Columbia and Rutgers University in the US addressed how these challenges, as well as peer and romantic relationships, are being navigated.

The study was published in the journal Perspectives on Sexual and Reproductive Health.

“Huge changes for adolescents and young adults include school closures, potentially much more time with family, the interruption of the normal trajectory toward increased independence and, for many, very limited or no physical proximity to sexual and romantic partners,” the study authors wrote.

Even though the pandemic may lead to fewer opportunities for sex for some young people, disruptions in access to contraception and abortion can be extremely problematic for adolescents and young adults who are still able to be physically close to their partners during the pandemic.

“The good news is that some services, including obtaining many forms of contraception and receiving testing and treatment for sexually transmitted diseases can be handled through telemedicine,” said study researcher Leslie Kantor from Rutgers University.

“If telemedicine remains as widely available as it has been during the coronavirus pandemic, access to sexual and reproductive health care may actually improve for young people,” Kantor added.

However, the research team said that lack of privacy and confidentiality, which many adolescents and young adults are experiencing while living at home with family, can also hinder the ability to get necessary sexual and reproductive healthcare.

In terms of testing for sexually transmitted infections or seeking abortion care, there is not a lot of data specifically on young people, the authors said.

But many states in the US have tried to restrict abortion access by arguing it is not an essential service despite the fact that abortion clearly is essential and needs to be timely.

There also have been very concerning declines in vaccinations for all children older than age two and the use of the HPV vaccine, which prevents cancer-causing infections and pre-cancers, has plummeted.

While social disruption resulting from the pandemic affects young adults’ sense of health and well-being, one positive aspect is that young adults are digital natives familiar with online platforms and social media.

“Young people are supposed to be gaining independence at this time in life, so for those who have had to return home after a period of being away, maintaining relationships with friends and romantic partners at a distance may be particularly challenging,” said study researcher David Bell from the Columbia University.

Recently, a study published in the preprint repository medRxiv, found that one in five adults in the US have experienced change — mostly a decrease — in their sexual behaviour during the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Another research, published in The Lancet Child and Adolescent Health journal, revealed that adolescents could be more susceptible to negative effects of physical distancing during COVID-19.

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