By Sandra Fleming, MD
The Coronavirus has changed our world and the way we live in so many ways, including; our work, our entertainment, our ability to travel, our social life, and, yes, our sex life. Of all the changes, the impact on our sex life might just be the most exasperating. Though it can be difficult, sex from a safe social distance is possible.
And it’s not just sex. It’s meeting someone. It’s flirting and dating and that first kiss and building trust, and moving forward to share physical intimacy. If you’re not locked down with a partner, what’s a person to do?
Can you have sex without risking exposure?
Yes, you can.
But like work, and entertainment, and travel and socializing, you have to change your ways. You have to be careful … and creative.
COVID-19 is most often transmitted through contact with droplets, saliva and mucus, all of which are – shall we say – potential byproducts of sex. To minimize our risk of infection it’s prudent to consider ways in which to minimize exposure. With this goal in mind, I share below some ideas and potential suggestions you and your partner might consider,
Me, Myself, and I
Let’s start with the obvious. In terms of sex, abstinence offers the highest probability of reduced exposure to Covid-19. The portion of young adults abstaining from sex is on the rise so if you opt not to engage in sex you’re not alone. That said, if sex is in your future, YOU are your safest sexual partner. Self-stimulation can be an important part of someone’s sex life, and it certainly minimizes exposure to external risks! Consider taking time to do some self-exploration, familiarize yourself with what feels good for your body, and try experimenting with different sex toys.
If you wish, you may also consider whether you feel comfortable involving your partner, either at a safe social distance, or over the phone or through videochat. Be thoughtful in your choices and take the time to determine what’s right (and not right) for you.
Living With Your Partner
In terms of potential Covid-18 exposure, the next safest sexual partner is most likely someone you have been living with for more than two weeks. Make sure you and your consenting partner(s) have been following the standard precautions in your day-to-day lives, and are not exhibiting any symptoms.
A New Partner
Now is the time to consider limiting new partners. If you do choose to engage in sex with a new partner, make sure neither of you are exhibiting any symptoms now or in the last 14 days. If possible, I suggest you both get tested prior to any sexual activity. I also suggest you ask your potential partner(s) about recent travel, contacts, potential exposure, and any other risk factors.
Whether a new partner or an existing partner, before engaging in any sexual activity with any partner, it is important to have an open dialogue to discuss what contraceptive methods will be used, define any safe words you may choose, confirm your preferences, and discuss safer sex practices beforehand. For a more in-depth discussion on what those conversations might look like and how to approach such a discussion, please visit the NHS sexual health website.
What Does Sex Look Like Now and How May I Reduce My Risk of Covid 19 Exposure?
Health officials and advisors have created an extensive list of suggested sexual activities during the pandemic. To offer a starting point, I compiled a handful of Do’s and Don’ts you may wish to consider.
- Satisfy yourself – masturbation offers the advantage of self-satisfaction and lack of partner contact.
- Masturbate together – mutual masturbation is a great way to engage in sexual pleasure with a partner while maintaining social distance and reducing risk of potential STI transmission and pregnancy.
- Use barrier methods – use internal and external condoms, dental dams and other methods reducing the exchange of bodily fluids and physical contact.
- Keep it clean – make sure to thoroughly wash your body and hands and any sex toys both before and after sex. This practice may also help reduce the risk of other infections such as urinary tract and yeast.
- Virtual Sex – Consider an interactive experience. Make sure that you and your partner(s) are comfortable, consenting, and respect each other’s boundaries and privacy.
- Kiss – Coronavirus is primarily spread through saliva and mucus, so try to avoid kissing, unprotected oral sex and/or any other ways of exchanging fluids. In terms of covering all bases, you should be aware that the virus has also been shown to live in fecal matter.
- Risk it – if you or your partner aren’t feeling well, if either of you have engaged in activities increasing potential exposure, or if something just doesn’t seem right, it may be a good idea to skip the festivities and get tested for COVID-19 at your local testing center. Sometimes safe sex is no sex.
The Coronavirus has changed our previously accepted sexual norms. Now is the time to be careful and thoughtful. Be kind to the current and future version of yourself and to your partner. The steps you take today may help you enjoy a full life of sexual satisfaction for years to come. But, to enjoy all those years of wonderful sex, we must remain healthy today. Now is the time more than ever to think before you act.
Interested in Reading More? Consider These Safer Sex Guidelines and Resources
The New York City Health Department: “Safer Sex and COVID-19”, suggestions on how to engage in safer sex during quarantine.
Planned Parenthood: COVID-19 and your sexual health, pregnancy and breastfeeding, accessing reproductive healthcare.
Sex positive educational resources: https://sexisdc.org/, and https://sexualbeing.org/blog/sex-during-the-covid-19-public-health-emergency/.