3 Apr 2020

Relationships and the lockdown: Your Covid-19 questions answered

7:21 pm on 3 April 2020

For some people being in 24/7 proximity to their partner will be a reason for great celebration. For others, it is likely to be the greatest passion killer. Whatever situation you are in, it's good to understand how the stress will be impacting you and what help is available to ensure your sexual health.

As Covid-19 spreads around the world, it can be daunting keeping up with the information. For RNZ, our responsibility is to give you verified, up to the minute, trustworthy information to help you make decisions about your lives and your health. We'll also be asking questions of officials and decision makers about how they're responding to the virus. Our aim is to keep you informed.

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Photo: 123rf.com

We posed some questions to Family Planning national nurse adviser Rose Stewart and clinical psychologist Karen Nimmo.

I am feeling stressed and not at all like my normal self. What impacts can I expect this to have on my body and desire for contact with my partner?

Karen Nimmo: It's normal for sex drive to fluctuate, depending on hormones and other social, relationship and psychological factors. In other words, whatever's going on in our bodies, heads and lives. So it makes sense that Covid-19, and all that goes with it, will have an impact on intimacy.

Sex and stress are not easy bed buddies. A lot of people find it extremely difficult to have great, or any, sex when they are feeling anxious and uptight. It can make it hard for one or other of you to be present. Also, by the end of a day in lockdown, you may have had enough of your partner! Sex may be the last thing you feel like doing.

A hug might be all you can manage -and that's OK. It's important to talk about how you're feeling and that sex drive and needs fluctuate - and to agree to handle this together. Don't just go hard after your own sexual needs - pushing for sex or avoiding it. It's also important to talk about your stress and what's driving it. Don't feel ashamed of your feelings and definitely don't make your partner guess what's going on for you.

Instead, focus on being a team. Focus on your relationship and the love between you. Ask your partner how you can help them feel better. Use physical touch because it can relax the body and make your partner feel loved, but don't do it with an agenda. If it doesn't lead to sex you need to be OK with that.

Rose Stewart: What we can tell you is that sex and intimacy will still happen and the risks of pregnancy and sexually transmissible infection (if any) remain too! It's definitely not sexy, but checking in with your partner about contraception and condoms is a really important part of keeping yourself well during this time.

We moved in together because of the lockdown. Do you have any advice about how we should deal with the inevitable physical and mental tension?

Karen Nimmo: There's always an adjustment phase to moving in with someone. And being in lockdown may bring additional psychological stress depending on how each of you are handling it.

Remember that lockdown is straining even stable and established relationships. So you're normal! Some people want more sex when they're anxious, some want (way) less. You have to respect the differences, especially when the outside world is a little chaotic. Treat it as a time to learn about your partner. So keep your clothes on and talk to them instead.

Rose Stewart: Talking to your partner about how you feel, what you're afraid of, what you want and don't want to happen are really important parts of getting through this lockdown time.

There are other avenues for help too such as Talk 1737, Youthline or Safe to Talk where you can speak with a trained counsellor. Some workplaces will have programmes like the Employee Assistance Programme where you will be able to talk with someone over the phone. Take your workplace up on the offer if you need to - whatever it takes to get through.

I'm an essential worker and my partner spends the day at home. When I get home they give me a wide berth and pretty much refuse any intimacy. I don't want to make them feel worse but how do I begin to address it?

Karen Nimmo: Respect your partner's need for a little space. It's natural for them to feel a bit detached when you've been out at the coalface, potentially up close to infection, and they have been holed up at home.

Ask them what they'd like or need from you - then do your best to deliver it. And tell them what you need too. You're doing valuable and tough work, but that doesn't mean they should have to guess how your day's been and how to make you feel better.

  • If you have symptoms of the coronavirus, call the NZ Covid-19 Healthline on 0800 358 5453 (+64 9 358 5453 for international SIMs) or call your GP - don't show up at a medical centre

I have an implant which will soon need changing. What do I do?

Rose Stewart: After five years of use, the implant we use in New Zealand (Jadelle) is not as effective, and we do not recommend you rely on it to work. It is safe for it to stay in your arm for longer but you should use another method of contraception until it can be changed.

This could be condoms or the progestogen-only pill. We will be able to prescribe the pill for you over the phone. If that's something like you'd like to check out, please use the Ask for an Appointment form on our website.

I have an IUD that needs to be changed. What are my options?

Rose Stewart: Some IUDs will work for longer than the recommended time, and you do not need to do anything if you use one of the following IUDs - Mirena, Choice TT380 STANDARD, CuT380A. You should talk to your health provider after the lockdown about getting it changed.

Some IUDs do not work for longer, and if you are using one of these then you will need to use additional contraception such as condoms or the progestogen-only pill (POP). These are Jaydess, Choice TT380 SHORT and Load375.

If you want to try POP, or if you are not sure which IUD you are using, contact us.

I'm due for another depo shot but I can't take the pill instead. I'm worried I don't have many choices?

Rose Stewart: Depo Provera works for longer than the 12 week time frame to get your repeat injection. Up to 14 weeks after the last injection you will still be safe, so you may not need more contraception depending on when your last injection was given. We will not be able to give you another injection during the lockdown, but we can give you a prescription for the pill, or for condoms.

I have seen reports that there is a shortage of condoms and the contraceptive pill. Is this true in New Zealand?

Rose Stewart: Some pills are temporarily in short supply but this should get better by mid to late April. If your regular pill isn't available, we will do our best to find a suitable alternative for you. At this stage, we are not aware of any problems with condom supplies in New Zealand.

My cervical screening appointment was due soon. Is that still happening?

Rose Stewart: During the Covid-19 lockdown, the routine cervical screening programme is not operating.

If you have symptoms of abnormal bleeding and /or unusual pain you will need to contact your GP. If you are having your smear annually this will continue. Your smear can be delayed until after the lockdown period.

If your smear showed high grade changes and you have been referred for a colposcopy, or need referral this will be prioritised. If you are unsure what is happening, contact your provider.

If you have had a series of low grade smears and have been referred your referral will be managed according to colpsocopy unit priorities.

Again, you can get in touch with us via the Ask for an Appointment form on our website.

Can I still get the morning after pill?

Rose Stewart: You can still get emergency contraception during the lockdown - and you can stop panicking because you likely have a little longer to get it than you think. The emergency contraceptive pill can be taken up to 72 hours after unprotected sex - that's sex where the condom broke, you forgot your pill or you weren't using contraception.

You can get ECP from your local pharmacist without a prescription - there will be a cost for this.

You can get ECP from Family Planning too. You can talk with one of our nurses or doctors over the phone and they will send a prescription to the pharmacy you choose. Our services are free during the lockdown - so you will only need to pay the pharmacy fax fee which is generally around $5.

Who can I talk to if an unplanned pregnancy occurs?

Rose Stewart: Around 40 percent of pregnancies are thought to be unplanned. We understand that the current lockdown is stressful - compounding the stress of finding yourself unexpectedly pregnant. It is really important that you talk with a nurse or doctor as soon as you think you're pregnant so that you can get the best possible medical care - regardless of your intention to continue the pregnancy, or not.

One piece of good news that has been largely overlooked during the Covid-19 upheaval is that our abortion law has changed and you no longer need to see two doctors to get approval for a termination. There's lots more information on the Ministry of Health website about how to access services.

What do I do if I think have recently contracted a sexually transmitted disease?

Rose Stewart: That's such a great question and there's a couple of really important things to remember.

The first is that some STI testing has been suspended while labs are testing for Covid-19.

The second thing to remember is that many STIs don't have symptoms. We often say that you can't tell by looking! But, if there's something you're worried about or if something doesn't feel quite right, then book a conversation with one of our nurses or doctors.

Heads up that they're likely to ask you some pretty personal questions, but they're trying to assess your risk so they can get you the treatment you need. Again, if they think it's appropriate, you might get a prescription faxed to your nearest pharmacy to collect when you're able. We know some pharmacies are delivering so that may be an option for you too.

If you need to be seen for assessment for a symptomatic STI, the nurse or doctor may recommend that you go to the sexual health clinic run by your DHB.

*If you have a question you'd like us to try and answer, email glen.scanlon@rnz.co.nz

Read more about the Covid-19 coronavirus:

More Q & As

  • https://www.rnz.co.nz/news/national/412730/your-covid-19-questions-answered-sole-parents-and-shared-families
  • https://www.rnz.co.nz/news/national/413166/working-on-the-farm-your-covid-19-questions-answered
  • https://www.rnz.co.nz/news/national/413059/wage-subsidy-and-workers-rights-your-covid-19-questions-answered
  • https://www.rnz.co.nz/national/programmes/checkpoint/audio/2018740797/covid-19-lockdown-your-employment-questions-answered https://www.rnz.co.nz/news/national/412944/your-covid-19-questions-answered-rental-rules-in-the-lockdown