Sex and Contraception Among College and Graduate Students During COVID-19 (2020-2021)


The COVID-19 pandemic has prompted many changes in daily life. Although most of the focus has been on changes related to large-scale social activities (e.g., work, school, shopping, dining out), it is likely that the pandemic has also affected sexual habits, activities and health practices, especially outside of stable partnerships, in ways that could affect both reproductive health and COVID-19 transmission.

For young adults pursuing post-high school education, cancellation of in-person classes, closure of many campuses and reduced access to in-person healthcare may put those who are sexually active at higher risk of unplanned pregnancy or STIs. There are existing racial and ethnic disparities within this group in terms of contraceptive access and use and STI incidence, which may be exacerbated by the racial and ethnic disparities in the impact of COVID-19. Understanding the ways in which these factors may interact has important health implications for both COVID-19 prevention and reproductive health.

Project Description

This project team will examine sexual activity, sexually transmitted infection (STI) awareness and prevention, and contraceptive use and access among undergraduate, graduate and professional students in North Carolina before and after the COVID-19 pandemic. The team will focus on young adults who are undergraduate and graduate students, including those at two- and four-year colleges and universities in the Triangle.

The team will utilize a survey through REDCap that will address elements such as demographic information, attitudes toward social distancing, pandemic-related anxiety, risk-taking behavior, sexual behavior pre- and post-pandemic and contraceptive use, and will use existing and validated measures when they are available. Team members will plan participant recruitment through social media advertising and campus-based email listservs.

Additionally, team members will conduct a needs assessment regarding sexual health access and information at local colleges and universities, including Duke, to inform dissemination and capacity-building around sexual education and contraceptive access. The team will examine ongoing student access to healthcare, financial stressors affecting healthcare and campus response and planning for future instruction.

Team members will also engage local campus groups to help ensure adequate representation among racial, ethnic, gender and sexual minorities.

Anticipated Outputs

Needs assessment regarding sexual health access during a pandemic at local two- and four-year colleges; academic publications; educational materials; conference presentations; data for future grant applications 


Fall 2020 – Spring 2021

  • Fall 2020: Finalize and adapt survey design; begin contraceptive needs assessments with Student Health at each college/university campus
  • Spring 2021: Perform statistical analysis of survey results; develop education interventions based on results of contraceptive needs assessments

Team Outputs

Adam Hollowell, Jonas J. Swartz, Rachel Proudman. 2021. "Telemedicine access and higher educational attainment." Journal of American College Health.

This Team in the News

How to Have Safe Sex in a Pandemic

A Survey on Sex: Bass Connections Team to Look at How COVID-19 Has Changed College Sexual Behavior 

Sociologist Says College Hookup Culture is 'Incompatible' with Preventing Coronavirus

Two students with masks.

Team Leaders

  • Keisha Bentley-Edwards, School of Medicine-Medicine: General Internal Medicine
  • Adam Hollowell, Sanford School of Public Policy
  • Evan Myers, School of Medicine-Obstetrics and Gynecology
  • Jonas Swartz, School of Medicine-Obstetrics and Gynecology

/graduate Team Members

  • Emily Chen, Medicine MD Second Year
  • Lauren Holt, Nursing-PHD
  • Lisa Lane, Masters of Public Policy
  • Emily Sen, Bioethics and Sci Policy - AM

/undergraduate Team Members

  • Clarice Hu, Biology (BS)
  • Sydney Morrow, Neuroscience (AB)
  • Grace O'Leary, Statistical Science (BS)
  • Rachel Proudman
  • Andrew Shin, Neuroscience (BS)
  • Lucy Zheng, Biology (BS)

/yfaculty/staff Team Members

  • Alaattin Erklani, School of Medicine-Biostatistics and Bioinformatics