883,000 Aussies cheated on their partner during lockdown

From Zoom dates and lockdown lovers to “covidivorces” and “coronababies”, the pandemic has transformed the way we connect with one another. To find out exactly how relationships in Australia have fared over the past 12 months, Body+Soul commissioned an exclusive nationwide survey to reveal the answers.

Nearly a year since the federal government sent Australians into lockdown in March 2020, the havoc the pandemic has since wreaked is plain to see – from financial strains and job losses to the immense impact on our physical and mental wellbeing.

But what about the more intimate aspects going on behind closed doors – in our homes and bedrooms? Curious? Us too. That’s why Body+Soul partnered with Baci Perugina chocolates and commissioned research company YouGov to get us the answers on everything from how much sex we were (or weren’t) having to how many of us made it through with our relationships intact.

The results are in and we’re pleased to report that in spite of everything 2020 threw at us, the overwhelming majority of Australians (79 per cent) are still in love with love. In fact, 40 per cent of married or de facto couples believe their relationship actually grew stronger during the pandemic.

But not every relationship fared better with the challenges of this year. While our sex drives might have still been robust, not everyone was turning to their partner to scratch that particular itch. To add one more unwanted side effect of the pandemic alongside the extra kilos, maxed-out credit cards and crushed dreams, it appears that the lockdown also played a part in our infidelity, with 10 per cent of married couples or people in de facto relationships continuing to meet or date new people and the equivalent of 883,000 Australians acting on that desire and cheating on their partner.

“More time together meant greater tension for some couples,” says psychologist Jo Lamble. “A common cry I heard was, ‘If this is what retirement looks like, count me out’”

Interestingly, 9 per cent of Aussies in a committed relationship reached out to an ex-partner with romantic intention. While reconnecting with a former flame may seem like a risky move, social commentator Bernard Salt is not surprised that people were getting nostalgic, likening hooking up with an ex to eating comfort food. “In times of great crises, when faced with immense stress and calamity, there can be a natural human desire to connect with something secure and familiar,” he tells Body+Soul.

It wasn’t all smooth sailing for the cheaters among us, though, with 39 per cent claiming that working from home and limited workplace travel impacted on their ability to carry out their extra-marital affair.

Let’s talk about sex, baby

Given the unprecedented amount of stress and anxiety hanging over us, one might assume our libidos would have taken a substantial hit. However – perhaps it’s been the ample time we’ve had to refine the mood lighting, or maybe it’s just boredom – 21 per cent of married or de facto couples living together reported having more sex than usual. Age is a factor, too, with millennials (39 per cent) getting lucky more often than gen-Xers (17 per cent) and baby boomers (8 per cent).

“It’s been like some grand, bizarre social experiment, putting entities together in the same space for an extended period of time, just to see what happens – a bit like Big Brother,” adds Salt.

Better apart

While some of us relished in the extra time together, for 9 per cent of married or de facto couples, all that time stuck in close proximity under the one roof ultimately weakened their relationship.

And given the general atmosphere of uncertainty and fear, and with many of the usual ways to manage our stress – such as travelling, going to the gym or meeting friends for dinner – off the table, things got particularly dicey in some households.

Like a pressure-cooker seconds away from blowing its lid, the situation became untenable for 35 per cent of committed couples, who reveal that they experienced tension, anger, verbal aggression and/or physical violence between themselves and their partner.

On your own

For the singletons among us, the toll of lockdown was colossal, with four in 10 admitting to feeling extremely lonely during the pandemic. Even now, as restrictions continue to ease and life returns to relative normalcy, Lamble warns: “We need to remember loneliness is a massive issue for many in non-COVID times as well, so keep reaching out to friends and family.”

Nearly half (46 per cent) of single Aussies weren’t prepared to let lockdown get in the way of love and adapted their approach to dating during the lockdown, participating in digital dates or only agreeing to meet up if they could maintain their social distance and wear face masks.

Only 16 per cent decided to wait until it was safe again to try to find love; suggesting for some the risk of infection was too high to justify a fling, while for others, watching re-runs of Sex And The City under a doona with a glass of wine and hydrating face mask on was perhaps all the comfort they needed.

Learning to live with each other

Clinical psychologist Jo Lamble believes that in addition to the hours spent baking sourdough and watching every TV show on the internet together, being forced to work from home forced couples to connect. “There wasn’t the chance to escape into the world,” Lamble tells Body+Soul. “For many, this gave them the opportunity to get reacquainted and connect on a deeper level.”

That’s right, all that time rearranging the furniture to create makeshift offices, wrangling the cabin-fever-affected kids and witnessing first-hand what goes into making the house habitable and functioning apparently gave many couples a new-found appreciation for one another.

YouGov research director Julie Harris believes this team mentality is reflective of how our country as a whole approached COVID-19. “I don’t think there was anything predictable about the pandemic and this holds true for its impact on Australians’ relationships,” she says. “We really came together as a community to work to reduce the impact of the pandemic on our lives, and this is reflected in the survey results.”

Love will find a way

If there’s one thing the results show, it’s that the wheels of life keep turning, irrespective of whatever chaotic state the world is in.

For the equivalent of 1.7 million – or 15 per cent – of Australians already married or in a de facto arrangement, the pandemic wasn’t enough reason to avoid taking the next step – with hundreds of thousands taking the plunge and either moving in together, falling pregnant, getting engaged or finally building up the courage to leave their partner.

And it says a lot about our optimism for the future (or our passion for open bars and a good old-fashioned party) that 93 per cent of Australians who intend to tie the knot at some stage in their lives say that the cancellation and postponement of weddings over the past year hasn’t put them off planning to walk down the aisle one day.

While it’s not uncommon for a global crisis to be the catalyst that’s caused us all to question and reassess every aspect of our lives, Salt believes that our intense desire to keep ticking off boxes on our love-life to-do list can be put down to something even more fundamental and instinctive. “The desire for love and hope for the future is irrepressible,” he says.

“Human existence requires us to recover from awful circumstances – to pick ourselves up, find someone and reproduce, and absolutely nothing is going to stop us. We are hardwired by nature to do precisely that.”

And the results are in…

As COVID-19 reached Australia and we went into isolation, here’s how the nation adjusted to love in lockdown

For people already married or living in de facto relationships…

15%, the equivalent of 1.7 million* people experienced a change to their relationship status

This includes:

  • 510,000 moved in together
  • 431,000 fell pregnant
  • 427,000 got engaged
  • 352,000 started a new “friends with benefits” relationship

9% the equivalent of 1 million people reconnected with an ex

351,000 broke up or separated

8% the equivalent of 883,000 people say their partner cheated on them

39% of people who would consider cheating said working remotely and having limited opportunity to travel impacted their ability to carry out their affair

35% experienced tension, anger, verbal aggression or physical violence between themselves and their partner

For singles…

40% experienced loneliness, with the equivalent of 1.2 million wishing they weren’t single during

this time

93% of Australians who intend to get married one day say the cancellation and postponement of weddings hasn’t deterred them from tying the knot

46% changed their approach to dating

This included:

  • 17% had digital dates on dating apps or websites
  • 9% dated on platforms like Zoom
  • 12% stopped all face-to-face dating
  • 8% got in touch with ex-partners
  • 6% only dated if it was socially distanced and/or wearing masks

20% say their sexual activity decreased

The bottom line

79% of Australians still believe in love and romance after living through a year of the pandemic

21% had more sex

40% felt living through COVID strengthened their relationship

* These figures are a representation of the population, based on a nationwide survey of 1052 Australian adults by YouGov on behalf of Body+Soul and Baci Perugina.