From social distancing and mask-wearing to stay at home orders and Zooming all the time, the COVID-19 pandemic has drastically impacted almost every aspect of our lives. And that includes sexual activity.
Sexual thoughts, feelings, and activities are all a natural part of life. We are sexual beings (whether involved in a romantic relationship or not). The question on everyone’s mind is: can physical contact and pleasure be safe in the midst of a pandemic? Our world has never experienced the novel coronavirus before and we are learning more every day. We know that it can cause a minor illness….or it can be deadly. So how do you live your best life? With information, smart choices, and doing proven things to reduce your risks of getting (or transmitting) COVID-19.
What Is COVID-19 and How Does It Spread?
COVID-19 is a respiratory illness that is thought to spread mainly from person to person through respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs, sneezes, or talks. These droplets then land on the hands, mouth, noses of people who are close by (within about 6 feet) and can possibly infect them. Newer evidence shows that aerosolized viral particles can hang in the air and infect people nearby. It can also be spread through direct contact with saliva or mucus.
It’s important to note that just because you feel good does not mean you are not infected with the virus (and can unknowingly spread it to others). Some people can be infected with the virus but have no symptoms. You can’t tell by looking at someone if they have COVID-19 or not (same goes for STDs). At this time there is no vaccine, so the best way to prevent illness is to avoid being exposed to the virus.
There are key things each one of us can do in everyday life is to:
- Practice physical distancing (read on to see some tips when it comes to sex)
- Wear a face covering
- Wash your hands
- Stay home when sick
- Avoid crowds and large gatherings
COVID-19 Risk Reduction When It Comes To Sex
One of the biggest ways to reduce the risk of spreading or getting the virus is to minimize contact with others. So how does that work when it comes to sex?
Well, it’s tricky, especially considering how COVID-19 spreads. You are your safest sex partner. Yes, we’re talking about masturbation. Self-pleasure is excellent for reducing stress and sexual tension (and it’s the safest sex there is)! The next safest sexual activity is with someone you live with. If you choose to have sex with people who don’t live with you, limit your sexual partners as much as possible.
Before COVID-19 hit, we would always recommend talking with your partner(s) about condoms, birth control (if applicable), sexual history, likes/dislikes, consent, etc. Since we are in a pandemic, it’s also a smart idea to talk about COVID-19 risk factors, potential exposure, symptoms, and preventive measures (physical distancing, mask-wearing, handwashing, etc.).
After your conversation, if you are uncomfortable having sex, you can change your mind (you can also change your mind at any point during sex). Communicate with your partner about what you are comfortable doing. If you have been in close contact with unmasked people (at parties, concerts, indoor restaurants, family gatherings, etc.) it’s safest to abstain from sex while you both quarantine for 2 full weeks. Or, if you both have been carefully following everyday precautions and are comfortable having sex with each other, get busy!
Besides limiting your number of partners, practicing good public health practices in your every-day life, and staying up to date with reliable COVID-19 health updates, here are some other ways to reduce your COVID-19 risk:
- Consider telesex or phone sex (sexual activity via webcam or phone when you are not together with your partner).
- Before and after sex, wash your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds.
- If you use sex toys, wash them with soap and water for at least 20 seconds before and after use.
- If you’re not feeling well or are experiencing any of these symptoms, skip sex and contact your healthcare provider.
- If are diagnosed with COVID-19 or think you might have the virus, skip sex and follow these steps to care for yourself and to help protect other people in your home and community.
- If you have been exposed to someone with COVID-19, separate yourself from anyone outside your household and follow the guidance of your healthcare provider.
While there is still a lot more to learn about COVID-19 and sex. Here’s what we know so far:
- COVID-19 may spread through feces. This means it’s possible to get COVID-19 if you are exposed to feces during sexual activity.
- Scientists have found COVID-19 in semen (it is not yet known if COVID-19 can be spread through semen).
- At this time, the COVID-19 virus has not been found in vaginal fluids.
Besides kissing and sexual contact, there are lots of other fun things you can do to safely connect with your partner. Cook a meal together. Watch a movie. Go for a hike. Watch a sunset. Play cards or a board game. Do a puzzle. Living in a pandemic isn’t fun! It won’t last forever. In the meantime, use your creativity to connect with others. You may be surprised at the results!
- NYC COVID Sex Guidance
- Planned Parenthood: COVID-19 & Your Sexual Health
- National Coalition for Sexual Health: COVID-19 & Sexual Health Fact Sheet
Want more SexTalk? Explore the archives here.
Have a question about sexual health or relationships? Email it to firstname.lastname@example.org
SexTalk is written by Lee Ann Hamilton, MA, CHES, David Salafsky, DrPH, MPH, and Carrie Johnson, MEd, CHES, health educators at The UA Campus Health Service.