Your Safest Sex Partner During The COVID-19 Pandemic Is…Yourself

  • The new coronavirus pandemic has forced people to practice social distancing and stay home, which raises the question of whether or not sex is safe during this time.
  • The NYC Health Department also recently released guidelines for sex and novel coronavirus.
  • Experts say that sex is not 100 percent safe during COVID-19, though it may be okay to engage in sexual activity with a partner with whom you’ve been self-isolating for a while.

Life has changed super fast thanks to the new coronavirus. But one thing that hasn’t changed for many people is the desire to connect with others, and the desire to have physical intimacy.

So far, there have been 163,539 cases of confirmed or presumptively positive novel coronavirus in the U.S., per the latest report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), updated April 1. But the situation continues to evolve minute to minute, as does our understanding of what’s currently considered safe to do—staying home, practicing social distancing, washing your hands a ton. But what about sex?

The same-old rules of safe sex certainly apply, but there’s a bit more you need to know to protect yourself and your current (or potential) sexual partners right now. Read on for answers to a few questions experts have been asked about sex in the time of novel coronavirus. Knowing what you can—and what you shouldn’t—do will give you some much-needed peace of mind, and you’ll be able to get it on as safely as possible.

Q: Can the virus spread through sexual activity?

A: Unfortunately, yes. You likely already know that the novel coronavirus spreads via respiratory droplets, like when someone coughs or sneezes on you or a nearby surface (although just how long these droplets hover in the air or survive once they’ve landed is yet to be determined). After that, “if you touch someone or something that has the virus on it and then touch your face, the virus can enter your system through your nose or mouth,” says Natasha Bhuyan, MD, a specialist in infectious diseases and family physician in Phoenix, Arizona.

So, even if you aren’t kissing while engaging in some type of sexual activity, even cuddling or being physically close with a person who’s carrying the virus can increase your risk of catching it, Dr. Bhuyan points out. And, naturally, direct contact with saliva or nasal mucus (like if you’re kissing or making out, or if you get it on your hands and then touch your face) will do the trick, too.

To get more in the weeds here, the virus hasn’t yet been detected in semen or vaginal fluid as far as experts know—but it has been detected in feces. This means that if a particle of fecal matter comes into contact with your mouth, it could lead to infection, says Dr. Bhuyan.

But even if you abstain from kissing or other forms of oral pleasure and stimulation, remember: Regardless of whatever in-person sexual activity you’re considering (vaginal intercourse, anal, foreplay, etc.), you’re at an increased risk of contracting or spreading the virus if you’re within 6 feet of someone. As such, all physical contact falls into the risky category, says Sandra Kesh, MD, an infectious disease specialist and deputy medical director at Westmed Medical Group in Purchase, New York.

An important note: This is true even if you and your partner(s) are feeling perfectly healthy and well. You or a partner could be carrying the virus with mild symptoms or without any symptoms whatsoever, per the CDC. For this reason, one of the most caring things you can do for yourself and any sex partners is to keep your distance (physically!).

Q: So…is it safe to have sex during COVID-19?

A: Nope, not 100 percent safe. That being said, there is a difference between having sex with a partner in your home and sex with someone totally new, says Dr. Bhuyan.

Does that mean a live-in partner, for instance, is okay?

“If you’re in a committed relationship and know their risk is low and yours is, too, that’s the only scenario when I would say it’s okay to have sex right now,” says Dr. Kesh. Why? Put simply, you know where they’ve been. If you and a partner live under the same roof and you’ve been self-isolating for weeks, your risk of picking up the virus (and passing it on) is far lower than it would be if you were still out and about and crossing paths with other people. So, go for it—but *safely* (more on that later).

What about brand-new sex partners?

Swipe right, sure, but your best bet is keeping all your intimacy online for the time being. “The biggest no-no is meeting up with people who you don’t know,” says Dr. Kesh. “I’d absolutely avoid casual contact or taking on new partners, because that’s where you’re putting yourself in a much more exposed situation.”

Unfortunately, you just don’t know if someone else (or you!) could be carrying the virus, so the safest assumption is that it’s a possibility. And, of course, you’re also putting others at risk if you have to travel to see each other. While it totally sucks to put your in-person sex life on hold, this is one way you can keep yourself safe and do your part to help reduce the spread of the virus overall.

There is one silver lining: Now’s a great time to get creative, says Dr. Kesh. Sexting, video chat, phone calls, and co-watching porn are all risk-free alternatives (and when this pandemic has blown over, imagine how *great* the sex will be when you do finally meet up IRL). Just remember to sanitize your phone, keyboard, touch screens, and sex toys before and after you get it on, says Dr. Kesh.

Q: If a partner is in my household, how can we have sex as safely as possible?

A: Safe sex during a pandemic may be slightly more hygienic than what you’re used to on a typical day. Here, how to get fresh and clean before you get down and dirty:

  • Wash your paws. You know the drill: Lather up your hands with soap and water, then scrub for a good 20 seconds frequently and before and after you hit the sheets. Alternatively, a hand sanitizer with 70 percent alcohol works, too, says Dr. Kesh.
  • Sanitize surfaces. When you’re stuck at home, you might as well get it on wherever you want (the laundry room, kitchen counter, floor…). Just make sure to wipe down surfaces as well as sex toys and any other go-to accessories with a disinfectant or soap and water before you and after you get it on, says Dr. Bhuyan.
  • Know your boundaries if you’re an at-risk person. It’s extra important to take precautions if you or your partner is immunocompromised or part of a vulnerable population (like being an older adult), says Dr. Bhuyan. Chances are, you already have your own house rules to protect yourselves, but talk to your doctor to be sure about what’s okay and what you’re best off skipping (sex might be off the table).

Q: Anything I should know about COVID-19 and masturbation?

A: “Masturbation is the one foolproof thing you can do,” says Dr. Kesh. Yay! It also makes for an awesome stress-reliever to help you get some shut-eye if COVID-19 anxiety is keeping you up at night. The same hygiene rules apply: Before and after, wash your hands along with any sex toys and your keyboard or touch screen. These simple steps lower your risk of catching the virus significantly, says Dr. Kesh.

The bottom line: In the time of coronavirus, your safest sex partner is, well, you! The next-safest person is an established partner you’ve been sharing your space with. Otherwise? Now’s the time to get creative and use technology for sexual activity.

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