The novel coronavirus has brought up questions about how to safely go about day-to-day activities — everything from grocery shopping to exercising to breastfeeding and, of course, having sex.
Below, doctors answer some of your burning sex-related queries.
Can the virus spread through sex?
The virus is thought to be primarily transmitted via respiratory droplets in saliva or mucus that are emitted when an infected person coughs or sneezes. It can also live on personal items the infected individual has come in contact with like clothing or bedding, or surfaces like countertops, doorknobs and faucet handles.
So the virus can spread during sex because of the close physical contact (kissing, cuddling, heavy breathing) involved. And you’d be hard-pressed to do the deed while abiding by the 6-foot social distancing recommendation.
While we don’t have a lot of data about this novel coronavirus, there’s currently no indication that the virus is present in sexual fluids like semen or vaginal secretions. Nor have other coronaviruses been known to spread via these fluids.
“It is found in feces however,” Dr. Ramin Asgary, associate professor of global health at George Washington University, told HuffPost. “Therefore rimming — mouth to anus — is a risk.”
The safest way to get off right now? Solo sex.
According to a New York City Health Department memo: “Masturbation will not spread COVID-19, especially if you wash your hands (and any sex toys) with soap and water for at least 20 seconds before and after.”
So can I have sex with a partner I live with?
After yourself, your next safest sex partner right now is a person you live with, provided that you’re both feeling well and have been taking the proper precautions — e.g. following hand-washing and social-distancing protocols.
“If you have someone you’re quarantined with — your spouse, your partner, or whoever — I don’t think there is any problem with having sex because you’re face-to-face all day anyway,” Dr. Lauren Streicher told the Chicago Tribune.
In fact, having sex with a live-in partner may have some benefits.
“It may help to relieve stress or anxiety, stay connected with your partner and release natural-occurring endorphins, allowing you a sense of peace and calmness during these stressful times,” Dr. Diana Hoppe, an OB-GYN and author of “Healthy Sex Drive, Healthy You.”
That advice only applies if you and your live-in partner are sexually exclusive. If one or both of you have been physically intimate with others during social distancing — which is ill-advised, by the way — then you could be exposing each other to infection.
“If your partner has sex with others, then risk of having the disease and transmitting it to you is higher compared to exclusive contacts,” Asgary said.
“[Sex] may help to relieve stress or anxiety, stay connected with your partner and release natural-occurring endorphins, allowing you a sense of peace and calmness during these stressful times.”
If you or your partner are experiencing symptoms of COVID-19 or have tested positive for the disease, sex should be avoided until you are no longer contagious, as determined by your doctor, and in compliance with the Centers for Disease and Control and Prevention guidelines on self-isolation. While sick, the infected individual should, if possible, stay in a separate bedroom, use a separate bathroom and keep six feet away from other members of the household.
And if your partner falls into the high-risk category — e.g. over the age of 65, and/or has an underlying condition such as diabetes, cancer, heart disease or a compromised immune system — consider holding off on sex for the time being just to be safe.
“You may want to minimise any contact if you yourself are a high-risk exposure and could be infected but asymptomatic,” Asgary said. “That would include sex or close intimacy.”
And, as always, engage in safe sex practices. That means utilising an effective birth control method if you don’t want to become pregnant, and condoms to prevent sexually transmitted infections.
What about other partners?
Having sex with a partner you don’t live with would be a violation of the current social distancing recommendations from public health experts. As stated above, you should be maintaining at least 6 feet of distance between you and anyone outside of your household (or anyone sick you reside with).
“There’s no need to jump into bed with a new partner right now,” Hoppe said. “Best to use this time to be introspective, be mindful of your needs and desires and consider the qualities you really want in a future partner. Jot these ideas down in a journal — safely done alone and in the comfort of your home.”
For those working in the sex industry — which has been hard-hit by the coronavirus outbreak — it’s best to meet with clients virtually, instead of in person. Same goes for anyone who uses dating apps and websites to connect with potential sexual suitors.
“If you usually meet your sex partner online or working as a sex worker, consider taking a break,” Asgary said. “Use videos or sexting or other non-contact options.”
Talk to your doctor if you have individual concerns about your sex-related COVID-19 risk.