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Almost half of UK adults' sex lives impacted by health problems - according to RCOT survey

Updated: Apr 11

Almost half (47%) of people aged 18 and over in the UK say their sex life has at some point been affected by illness, injury, a health condition or disability. And around two in five (41%) say health problems have affected their relationship. That’s according to a new survey by the Royal College of Occupational Therapists (RCOT).
The findings support expert advice on improving sex lives, intimacy and relationships, from occupational therapists.  

According to the poll, around one in seven (15%) UK adults say their, or their partner’s, lack of understanding of the other person’s health condition has caused problems in their relationship. The same proportion (15%) said the impact of their or their partner’s health condition has caused relationship problems. 
With around half (48%) of adults in the UK affected by long-standing health problems, there is a clear need for more support for people with health challenges to be able to maintain healthy connections and stable relationships. For many, improving communication could help. The survey revealed that adults in the UK have sex more than they talk about it or their relationship: having sex just under once a week (46 times a year), but only talking about sex or their relationship 41 and 37 times a year respectively.
The survey revealed that men feel most comfortable talking about sex with their partner (42%). However, it showed that women tend to feel more comfortable talking with their friends about sex (40%) than with their partner (35%). Just over one in five (22%) UK adults don’t feel comfortable talking about sex with anyone, rising to more than two in five (41%) among those aged 65 and over.  
The poll found that one in three (30%) people would break up with someone if they thought the sex was bad. The top three causes of problems in a relationship are: poor communication (26%), stress (22%) and financial pressures (19%).  
Lauren Walker, Professional Advisor at the Royal College of Occupational Therapists, says:  "There’s more to a relationship than sex, and – as our survey shows – communication is absolutely key. While, for many of us, sex is an important part of a relationship, there are many other components to a stable and healthy relationship.  
"It’s surprising to see just how many adults’ relationships and sex lives have been affected by long-term illness, injury, health condition or disability in the UK. And it’s a concern that so many of these people feel their relationship is affected by a lack of understanding or simply the impact of a health problem. This is where occupational therapists come in. We work with people to address both physical and psychological challenges around sex and intimacy. We help them to overcome barriers that they're facing in their romantic and sexual relationships.  
"Ahead of Valentine’s Day, the best place to start is by having a conversation with your partner about your relationship and your sex life. It can be difficult and uncomfortable, so make sure you’re in a relaxed environment. If you need to, ask a friend if you can role play the conversation beforehand, or practice in a mirror, so you have an idea of what you want to say."  
Occupational therapists can use their skills to address everyday occupations, including intimacy and sex, within the context of long-term health conditions, illness, injury or disability.
As part of the Lift Up Your Everyday campaign, RCOT has created a page on their website that provides examples of the type of advice that occupational therapists would give as part of a personal, realistic and practical plan for an individual. The advice is available at


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