The March 2020 lockdown led to a drop in fertility rates and not the baby boom previously predicted, it has emerged.
Fertility rates in England and Wales for December 2020 and January 2021 showed ‘relatively steep decreases’ compared with a year earlier, down by 8.1% and 10.2% respectively, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS).
Births in these months would have mostly been conceived in the weeks following the start of the lockdown.
Previous data collected by the long-running National Survey of Sexual Attitudes and Lifestyles found physical intimacy between British couples halved during the first lockdown.
Other studies of the under-35s have found that during the three lockdowns, a third of couples were having less sex with their partner and a quarter none at all.
However, there was a year-on-year increase in the fertility rate for March 2021 of 1.7%, which suggests that sex was very much back on the table when ‘lockdown restrictions were beginning to be eased in summer 2020′, the ONS said.
Fertility rates in England and Wales for December 2020 and January 2021 showed ‘relatively steep decreases’. Births in these months would have mostly been conceived in the weeks following the start of the lockdown
In May, a new survey revealed that four in ten Britons have not been intimate with their loved-one over the entire Covid pandemic – with most blaming working from home.
Nearly 80 per cent of married people said their partner never initiates sex and the typical adult rates their sex life at an underwhelming 2.9 out of ten – compared with 7.3 at the beginning of their relationship.
The new data released from the ONS seems to reflect a drop in sex throughout the pandemic.
Fertility rates are the number of live births per 1,000 women aged 15 to 44.
The rate for December 2020 was 50.1, down from 54.5 for December 2019, while the rate for January 2021 was 50.3, down from 56.0 in January 2020.
By contrast, the rate for March 2021 was 55.2: up from 54.3 in 2020.
The figures also show that the total number of live births in England and Wales in 2020 fell for the fifth successive year in a row.
Some 615,557 live births took place during the year, down 4% on 2019, and a drop of 16% from the recent peak of 730,883 births in 2012.
There were 2,429 stillbirths in England and Wales last year, the equivalent of 3.9 per 1,000 births, the ONS said. This is down slightly from 2,596 stillbirths and a rate of 4.0 in 2019.
The stillbirth rate for January 2021 was 4.7 – the highest for any calendar month since March 2018.
January 2021 coincided with the height of the second wave of the coronavirus pandemic but the ONS said the rate was ‘within the plausible range that we might expect to see from random variation’, noting there are relatively low numbers of stillbirths each month, and there were 226 stillbirths in January 2021 compared with 207 in January 2020.
A timeline of the different UK coronavirus lockdowns, from March 2020 to March 2021
Meanwhile the total fertility rate in England and Wales for this year could end up being the lowest ever recorded, the ONS suggested.
Based on data for the first three months of the year, the rate for 2021 is estimated to be 1.53 children per woman. This is down from 1.92 children per woman in 2011.
The total fertility rate is the average number of live children a group of women would bear if they experienced age-specific fertility rates throughout their childbearing life.
Discussing the lack of lockdown sex, psychosexual therapist Murray Blacket, said: ‘You stop recognising the unique qualities in your partner that made you attracted to them in the first place.’
Other specialists say the mundane routine of lockdown made it hard to connect with sexual feelings.
‘Sexuality is often seen as something different and extra to our everyday lives,’ says sex therapist Marian O’Connor from the relationship counselling charity Tavistock Relationships. ‘The routine of lockdown has meant that many couples find it hard to get into that sense of otherness or specialness.’
While women are twice as likely to lose sexual interest in their partner compared with men, according to a study by University College London, other researchers lay the blame for the lack of lockdown libido on that mood-killer – stress.
‘All of the polls during lockdowns have shown that women bear the brunt of domestic stress by leading the home schooling or doing the endless cooking,’ says Dr Machin.
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