First results of the study from the second lockdown presented at Sigmund Freud University.

Experiencing companionship, friendship, love, physical closeness, physical intimacy and sexuality has fundamentally changed as a result of lockdowns and disengagement. A large-scale study at SFU, co-financed by the City of Vienna and Arbeiterkammer, is now examining these changes and their social and psychological effects in detail. The focus is on differences between population groups with regard to relationships and contacts, sexuality and physical closeness, worries and psychological stress, experiences of exclusion, conflicts and violence as well as coping strategies and cohesion. For this purpose, almost 2,600 people in Germany and Austria were surveyed online from 10 November to 10 December 2020.

The first interim results are now available, which make an important contribution to understanding the social dynamics of the crisis. Barbara Rothmüller, head of the study, from the Faculty of Psychology at SFU:

“How complex social relationships have changed as a result of the distancing measures has been given too little attention so far. Respondents in our study describe experiences of exclusion and there is stigmatisation of population groups that are shunned as supposedly ‘contagious’. The loss of social networks is also noticeable in our study.”

As many as 20% of respondents have lost contact with key confidants during the pandemic. Exclusion due to attitudes towards the pandemic was experienced by one in four, and 14 per cent of people from LGBQ(+) backgrounds experienced exclusion due to their sexuality or relationship form in the pandemic. The study also shows that staff in high-risk professions not only bear a brunt of the health crisis, but are also socially shunned due to fears of infection. One third of the medical staff surveyed in the second lockdown felt that people were distancing themselves from them because they work in a high-risk field.

The gender aspect is also interesting: the survey results indicate that women not only do much of the caring work among friends and family, but also at the work place. They often feel overwhelmed by the new, pandemic-related support expectations and are more often more exhausted than men, whereby they also have less time to recover in comparison.

One in ten respondents reported that their last hug had been more than three months ago at the time of the survey. For people without a romantic or sexual relationship, at the time of the second lockdown, it was just under one in two. Dating and the desire to have children also changed among the study participants during the pandemic.

More than half of the respondents said they missed cultural events, travel and holidays, and contact with large groups of friends.

Summing up, Laura Wiesböck, sociologist and co-author of the study, said:

“The restrictions that accompany the health crisis, the increase in poverty risks, the fear of the virus, social isolation and the loss of self-determination over one’s own life lead to new worries and psychological stress. In the survey, this increasingly affects parents, women and people with non-binary or other gender identities.”

Dr. Barbara Rothmüller