Can you get COVID-19 from sex? How can I safely have sex during the COVID-19 pandemic?

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COVID-19 is a new illness that can affect your lungs and airways. It’s caused by a virus called coronavirus.

To help stop the spread of coronavirus everyone has been asked to stay at home. You should only go out for a few reasons, and if you do, keep 2 metres distance between you and other people. Read more about coronavirus on hse.ie.

While there is no evidence that coronavirus can be sexually transmitted, it can be passed on through close contact with someone who has the virus.

Reduce the risk of coronavirus during sex

You may not know if someone has coronavirus. Being sexually active with another person involves some risk of getting the virus. You can reduce this risk by following the advice below.

  • Only be sexually active with a partner you live with who does not have the virus or symptoms of the virus.
  • Avoid being sexually active with anyone outside your household.
  • Avoid kissing anyone outside of your household and anyone with symptoms. Kissing can easily pass on coronavirus.
  • Taking a break from physical and face-to face interactions is worth considering, especially if you usually meet your sex partners online or make a living by having sex. Consider using video dates, sexting or chat rooms. Make sure to disinfect keyboards and touch screens that you share with others.
  • Masturbation will not spread coronavirus, especially if you wash your hands (and any sex toys) with soap and water for at least 20 seconds before and after.
  • While the current advice is not to have sex with or kiss anyone outside of your household, if you do, it is important to limit it to as few partners as possible. Remember close sexual contact with anyone you are not living with can put you and others at risk of coronavirus. Use condoms and dental dams to reduce contact with saliva or faeces, especially during oral or anal sex and avoid rimming (mouth on anus) as it might spread coronavirus.
  • Wash before and after sex. This is more important than ever. Wash hands thoroughly and often with soap and water.

Safer sex practices

Sexual activity can carry the risk of getting an STI and unplanned pregnancy. It is important to take the usual safer sex precautions. Many public STI services are not currently providing services due to coronavirus. Find out more about these restrictions.

Remember:

There is no evidence to suggest that people on PrEP or HIV treatment have additional protection against coronavirus.

When to consider avoiding sex

  • Avoid sex and especially kissing if you or your partner has symptoms of coronavirus, for example fever, cough or shortness of breath. If you develop symptoms of coronavirus, you should self-isolate and phone your doctor.
  • Avoid sex if you or your partner has a medical condition that can lead to a serious illness because of coronavirus. Medical conditions include lung disease, heart disease, diabetes, cancer or a weakened immune system (for example, having unsuppressed HIV and a low CD4 count). Find out  more about at-risk groups.

Sexual activity should only ever be between consenting adults who have the legal capacity to make the decision. Read more about consent.

Sexual Health Services during the coronavirus outbreak

Contraception Services

Contraception prescriptions – Pharmacists can continue to provide you with your usual contraception prescription. If your prescription is due for renewal, and you’re not in a position to get a new prescription, your pharmacist may be able to provide you with additional supplies of your contraception, if it is safe and appropriate to do so.

Emergency Contraception – You can get emergency (hormonal) contraception without prescription from your local pharmacy as usual. Pharmacies will continue to stay open during the coronavirus outbreak and emergency contraception consultations with pharmacists will continue. If you need emergency contraception, phone your pharmacist, who may be able to carry out the consultation over the phone, before you go to the pharmacy for the medicine. This will reduce the amount of time you need to spend in the pharmacy. Emergency hormonal contraception can be taken up to 5 days after unprotected sex. The sooner you take it, the more effective it is

Unplanned pregnancy services

My Options provides support and information for those experiencing an unplanned pregnancy. The service continues to operate as normal during this time. Freephone 1800 828 010 or visit myoptions.ie.

HSE-funded, face-to-face unplanned pregnancy counselling services have moved their services to phone or remote support. They continue to provide the same level of service. You can find their contact details on myoptions.ie.

Abortion services will continue to be provided. During the current COVID-19 public health emergency, it may not be possible or suitable for you to attend a doctor in person to access abortion services. You can have your pre-abortion consultation by phone or video link with a doctor. Find out more information on myoptions.ie.

STI Services

Currently there are significant restrictions to public STI services because of the coronavirus situation. Find out more about these restrictions.

Other important information

For specific information on coronavirus and sex for gay and bisexual men, transmen and other men who have sex with men, please see:

HIV Ireland has specific information for people living with HIV.

Information for sex workers is available on Sexual Health Centre Cork’s website.

This information was last updated on 14th April 2020 and is subject to change depending on evolving restrictions and evidence linked to coronavirus.

We spoke to Melbourne-based Dr. Kieran Kennedy to find out if you can catch COVID-19 via getting down and dirty.

“It’s important to clarify first and foremost that COVID-19 (like other Coronviruses) is a respiratory virus,” he tells Men’s Health.

“As such, it’s primarily spread through airway, nasal and oral secretions – like those expelled when we sneeze or from droplets left on surfaces that might transmit from hands to eyes, nose and mouth. Spread of the virus by respiratory droplets is thus the major source of transmission, and why close contact with those outside the home needs to be limited right now.”

Interestingly, Dr. Kennedy notes that the art of sex itself won’t transmit the disease, however, being in close proximity to the person puts you at risk.

“Currently, however, there’s no evidence that COVID-19 is spread in semen, vaginal fluid or other sexual fluids. The virus is not a sexually transmitted disease, and so intercourse itself (at least in terms of the most basic mechanics) doesn’t appear to offer risk of transmitting the virus genitally,” he continues.

“What CAN and DOES lead to COVID-19 spread however is close contact, and (let’s face it) sex is about as close as contact gets.”

Dr. Kennedy also adds that other bodily fluids commonly found in kissing such as saliva can carry the virus.

“Saliva or airway secretions left on objects or other parts of the body that then might come into contact with the mouth, nose or eyes (by way of a then touching the face for example) is another means of spread – this means that oral sex could also potentially lead to spread,” he says.

And his thoughts on teeing up a bit of hanky panky?

“People shouldn’t be seeking out new sexual partners right now to reduce the risk of transmission. Now’s a good time to get creative with dating and other forms of getting intimate that don’t involve actual physical contact.

“If we live with a partner and both are feeling well, have no symptoms and don’t have risks for infection (like travel or contact with a known case) then it’s of course ok to keep having sex. If one partner in a household was in isolation for possible or suspected COVID however, then close contact within the house should be avoided as much as possible and this would (of course) make sex a no go unless results are back as negative.”

The coronavirus pandemic is putting pressure on every aspect of life — including relationships.

So what’s the best way to keep a relationship healthy? WBEZ asked therapists Melissa Novak and Megan Salisbury about dating, breakups and sex. Here’s what they had to say:

Can I have sex during the coronavirus pandemic?
If you don’t live with a sexual partner, doctors and public health officials say don’t touch. But that doesn’t mean people aren’t traveling to hook up.

Sex therapist Melissa Novak suggested having an honest conversation with your sexual partner about coronavirus exposure and COVID-19 risks.

Therapist Megan Salisbury said many of her clients are polyamorus and have multiple romantic partners. She said they need to have safety protocols to limit their individual risks of infection. That often means spending some time physically apart, she said.

How can I make dates feel substantial?

Therapist Megan Salisbury said enjoy what is currently possible. Schedule a virtual happy hour. Light candles and order out from the same restaurant. Send a date ingredients, and ask them to make up a recipe.

“Life was not what it was a month ago, but it doesn’t mean it needs to be boring,” she said. You can still have a ‘hot date.’ ”

If you’re at home, dress up for one another and try new activities. Board games and puzzles are a great way to pass the time, Salisbury said.

How do I enjoy a virtual sex life?

With some creativity, said therapist Megan Salisbury, who recommends sending risque texts, photos and using sex toys. She suggested the remotely controlled, sex toy We-Vibe.

She also said it’s OK to grieve the loss of physical touch.

“We often conceptualize grief as a formal process,” Salisbury said. “But grieving is loss. We grieve redefining a relationship. We grieve a friendship we’ve moved past. We grieve a lot of things.”

Sex therapist Melissa Novak suggested writing a romantic letter or send an article of clothing in the mail. If you struggle to write, send a link to an erotic story instead.

“It can be explicit or implicit as you’d like,” she said. “It doesn’t have to be the sort of traditional phone sex type of thing. It can just be a shared experience that you’re self pleasuring hearing the other person on the line. Or telling them when you get off the phone that ‘I’m gonna go pleasure myself and think of you.’ ”

How do I break up with someone while social distancing?

Sex therapist Melissa Novak said she’s telling her clients to not make life-altering decisions during a public health crisis. But if it’s necessary — be clear, concise and be prepared for them to be angry.

“A lot of people don’t want any repercussions of the fact that this person is going to be hurt by something I’m going to do,” she said. “Just because someone is going to be hurt doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do it. What it means is you have to tolerate that.”

Be mindful of how supported your ex will be when you’re gone. Reach out to their friends or family if you think they need it.

I miss touch — how can I fill the void?

Sex therapist Melissa Novak said to think about what you lack emotionally from physical touch and find the closest substitute.

“Self touch towards erotic pleasure, self touch toward soothing pleasure, self touch toward pain reliving pressure,” she said. “When somebody says, ‘I really want physical affection,’ they should ask themselves — well, what is that? What is about somebody else touching your arms? Think creatively that we can do that.”

How can I keep a new romantic connection alive?

Sex therapist Melissa Novak said it depends whether you view distance as a barrier or an opportunity to strengthen your connections. For some, it is a good time to foster trust, dependability and reliability.

Novak said people in new relationships often have a deep desire to be around their partner all the time. They may be tempted to talk on the phone until 3 a.m., but should regulate their conversations so they still want to talk more the next day.

Distance also can carry an erotic charge, and she said harnessing that longing and anticipation is a good strategy. But keep in mind that it’s not sustainable 100% of the time.

“Eventually we all get burned out,” she said. “There is a weight that comes with this pandemic. “The big thing that we have to work on is trying to [communicate] in a more lighthearted way. Not just having serious conversations — how do you insert levity and playfulness?”

How do I manage being holed up with my partner?

Therapist Megan Salisbury said life during the stay at home order is a chance to interact with our partners in new and creative ways. But people should also carve out alone time.

Assign separate errands to give each other space. Substitute the time you normally commute to work with a walk.

Do your best to communicate your feelings and needs honestly. When a conversation gets heated — hit the pause button.

“We’re allowing ourselves opportunity to deescalate individually and as a couple emotionally,” Salisbury said, and suggested reaching out to a couple’s therapist if you can’t resolve the problem. Many offer single video sessions.

Sex therapist Melissa Novak said to lower your expectations for your partner, and recognize you may not be able to fully meet eachothers needs.

“Realize that we’re in a really crazy scenario,” she said. “People often think, ‘Well because this is happening in my relationship that means there is something wrong with this relationship,’ when there is really something wrong with this situation.”