Governments across the world have told us we should minimize contact with others to reduce the spread of COVID-19. It’s pretty much impossible to practice ‘social distancing’ with those we share beds with, so where does sex feature in all of this?
According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the virus is mainly transmitted from person-to-person through respiratory droplets, which are produced when someone sneezes or coughs. It’s also possible to catch the virus by touching a surface or object, then touching your own mouth, nose, or eyes. While there’s currently no evidence the virus is transmitted through bodily fluid itself, sex is intimate and requires close contact with someone else.
We can’t avoid intimacy, but there are steps you can take to avoid putting yourself at additional risk. Here are some tips on how to enjoy sex while avoiding spreading COVID-19.
Can you catch COVID-19 by having sex?
There’s a lot we don’t know about COVID-19, and it’s too new for us to have any firm data on whether or not it’s transmitted via sex itself. No traces have been found in semen or vaginal fluid so far, but that doesn’t mean it’s impossible.
What we do know is that you can definitely catch the virus from saliva and water droplets produced when someone coughs or sneezes — and because sex usually involves plenty of kissing, it’s almost certain you’ll infect someone or catch it that way. Traces have also been found in fecal matter, so it’s also possible to catch it through unprotected anal sex and rimming (mouth on anus). If you do plan on getting intimate with someone, condoms and dental dams are your best line of defense against the virus during sex and oral sex.
Can I have sex with my partner if we both feel healthy?
According to NYC’s health department, “you are your safest sex partner… The next safest partner is someone you live with.” Having close contact with a limited number of people helps prevent the spread of COVID-19. Alongside limiting your sexual contact with others, there are ways you can reduce the risk of infection.
Thoroughly washing hands and sex toys for at least 20 seconds with soap and hot water will kill the virus on surfaces and skin. You can clean keyboards and touch screens that you share with others with disinfectant wipes, spray, or soap and water — and wear dental dams and condoms to help you limit contact with saliva and other fluids during oral sex or anal sex.
If you or your partner has an underlying health condition, such as lung disease or a compromised immune system, you could consider skipping sex entirely and exploring different ways to be intimate with each other, including video chat, sexting, or mutual masturbation.
Can I have sex with someone if one of us has COVID-19?
Short answer — no. While our limited knowledge of the disease indicates it isn’t transmitted via sexual activity, it is passed on through saliva, so if you get up-close and personal with someone who has the virus, your chance of catching it rises — and vice versa. If you or your partner isn’t confirmed but is showing symptoms — including fever, cough, sore throat or shortness of breath — then it’s best to avoid any kind of close-contact activity, especially kissing.
Can I masturbate?
Masturbation will not spread COVID-19, especially if you wash your hands and sex toys with soap and water before and after sex. It’s also a better option than having sex with someone else because it means you’re limiting your contact with others. But besides being a safe way to enjoy yourself while socially distancing, are there any benefits?
There’s a persistent rumor going around that masturbation can boost your immune system. It may be true: One 2004 study revealed white blood cell count was higher 45 minutes after solo orgasm than it was five minutes beforehand. But there’s a catch: The study was only conducted on a small group of 11 male volunteers, and no further evidence has supported the claim. So if you’re masturbating to specifically ward off the virus, sorry, your efforts are for naught.
But it does have numerous other benefits. According to anecdotal evidence, it’s a safe way to feel pleasure, relieve stress, and release built-up tension. Each orgasm sends a rush of endorphins (pain and stress-relieving chemicals) through your body, triggering a general feeling of improved wellbeing — something that’s especially important when you consider how interlinked mental health is with physical health.
Can I have sex with someone new?
You should avoid close contact with anyone outside your household. While people are most contagious when they are the most symptomatic (feeling the worst), experts warn the virus could be transmittable before symptoms show — so even if you both feel healthy, you still risk passing the infection on. If you do have sex with others, have as few partners as possible and consider using condoms and dental dams to shield each other from saliva and other bodily fluids.
Of course, this virus is a far more serious health and financial issue for sex workers, many of whom rely on the money they earn from sex to pay for the basics, like food, rent, and medicine. New York City’s health department suggests workers consider taking a break from in-person meetings and instead consider other ways to connect with their clients. “Video dates, sexting, or chat rooms may be options for you.” Other workers are turning to camming and phone chat as alternative sources of income.
I don’t feel safe having sex with my partner during the coronavirus outbreak. What else can we do to be intimate?
Sex is often seen as the main course when it comes to being intimate with your other half, but there are many equally fulfilling ways to connect from a distance — including via app and battery-operated toys.
For those with vaginas, the We-Vibe Sync allows your partner to control the vibrations using their mobile phone, which means they can operate it from another room, city or continent. For people with penises, Fleshlight LaunchPAD (link NSFW) is an iPad case that attaches to a fleshlight, so Skype sex with your other half can become that little bit more immersive. And for those who have a shared playlist, the Lovesense Buttplug is a remote control toy that vibrates in time with music. There’s also video chat, sexting, and mutual masturbation, which are all great options to help you get frisky, minus the risk.
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