It’s been eight months since the COVID-19 pandemic began and there’s still not a clear rule book on what to do, especially when it comes to sexual and romantic partnerships. Just like with the millions of other things in our lives we’ve had to change this past year, the pandemic has made us look at sex in a whole new way. Choosing to engage in intimacy during this time, or rather choosing not to, carries newfound levels of stress, anxiety, and shame for a lot of people. And if the pandemic has left you feeling a bit less than lusty, that’s normal too! So, to help you navigate the chaotic new world of socially distanced zoom dates and masked kissing, here are some things we do know:

COVID-19 is a virus that is most easily transmitted through droplets and aerosols from your mouth/breathing while in close proximity with other people for extended periods of time, especially when indoors with low ventilation. Not only can COVID-19 be transmitted through the swapping of saliva (e.g. kissing), it has also been shown to be transmitted through oral and anal sex, and found in the feces and semen of both infected and previously infected men. While it is still unclear whether the virus can be transmitted through semen or vaginal fluids, the harsh reality is that social distancing and sexual activities aren’t exactly compatible these days. So how risky is getting frisky exactly? And in what ways can we limit that risk during our intimate interactions with others?

At the end of the day—your safest sex partner is yourself.  Masturbation or remote sex with your partner (via zoom or sexting) is the safest way to be intimate during the pandemic. Experts also recommend sex toys as a way to stay committed to social distancing if you don’t have a partner you can see in person or trust.

The next safest option is having sex with someone you already live with—as long as they are taking measures to diminish risky behavior in their day-to-day lives. A recent Match.com study on Singles in America found that of respondents who had chosen to have sex during the pandemic, ¼ of them were with nonromantic roommates.

The riskiest of all options is having sex with someone outside of your household or close circle. If you do choose to have sex with individuals outside of your household, be honest with yourself and others about what the true risks are (reflect on infection rates in your community, your own daily behaviors, etc.) and if you are willing to accept those risks. Engage in open communication with potential partners about what each of you have been “up to” during the pandemic, by asking questions like:

  • Have they been diagnosed with COVID-19 in the last month?
  • Do you or have you had symptoms in the last 14 days?
    • Symptoms may include fever or chills, cough, shortness of breath or difficulty breathing, fatigue, muscle or body aches, headache, new loss of taste or smell, sore throat, congestion or runny nose, nausea/vomiting, and/or diarrhea
  • What does your pandemic social life look like?
  • How many people do you interact closely with on a daily basis?
  • What do you do for work? Is it remote or in-person? Do you work the healthcare field, nursing home or shared living community?
    • If so, experts advise these individuals get tested regularly, even if asymptomatic, since they are at increased risk of exposure to COVID-19
  • Do you or anyone you live with have underlying conditions?

 

Depending on the answers to these questions, being intimate with a certain individual may be more risky than you bargained for or are comfortable with. If you do choose to have sex with someone outside of your household, consider taking measures to further mitigate risk during sex:

  • Avoid kissing
  • Wear a mask
  • Use condoms to reduce contact with saliva, semen and feces
  • Avoid oral and anal sex
  • Reduce your number of sexual partners and when picking partners, pick ones you trust
  • Pick open, more ventilated spaces
  • Pick sexual positions that limit face-face contact
  • Always remember that safe sex includes also protecting against STIs and HIV, so always use a condom!

 

Decisions around sexual activities and intimacy have always been personal and nuanced. And the pandemic has made everything more tricky that ever before! Bridgercare is here for you if you need someone to talk to about these decisions. Your health and the health of our whole community is what matters most right now!

 

Written by Gabby Farrell, a 2020 Bridgercare intern. Gabby is biology major at Bowdoin College and works per diem as an Emergency Department assistant at her local medical center. In her free time she enjoys backpacking and long distance running.