The whole isolation aspect of COVID-19 has definitely been changing the sex and dating landscape. While meeting people IRL has taken a back seat, FaceTime sex, long chats, and coronavirus-themed porn are all having a moment.
Even if you’ve been thriving thanks to the aforementioned hobbies, you might still be wondering exactly what’s off the table right now. Luckily the city of New York set out to educate us all with a Sex and Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) guide.
The guidance is based on what’s known about COVID-19 transmission so far. At this point, it seems like the virus mainly spreads between people who are within six feet of each other, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). When someone with the virus coughs or sneezes, they can expel respiratory droplets that can end up in the other person’s nose or mouth. People might also pick up the coronavirus after touching a contaminated surface, but that doesn’t seem to be the primary way the virus spreads, according to the CDC.
So far, COVID-19 doesn’t seem to be transmitted through sex, though it’s worth noting that that isn’t always the case with viruses in general, says Nicole Williams, M.D., an ob-gyn with the Gynecology Institute of Chicago. “There are hundreds of types of viruses,” she explains. “Although it doesn’t appear that the coronavirus is sexually transmitted, one can easily shed viruses like herpesvirus and HIV through vaginal semen and fluid.” Regardless, though, you can technically catch the coronavirus while having sex with someone who’s infected, sheerly by virtue of your proximity to them during sex, notes Dr. Williams.
As of now, there’s no research indicating that COVID-19 has been detected in semen or vaginal fluid. But the virus has been found in poop samples, according to New York’s Sex and COVID-19 guide—meaning anal sex might make coronavirus transmission more likely than other sex acts. With those details in mind, the NYC Health Department’s take is that kissing and rimming (mouth-to-anus sex) can be especially risky in terms of potential COVID-19 transmission since that can mean coming in contact with someone else’s saliva or fecal matter.
(Also read: Can the Coronavirus Cause Diarrhoea?)
The city got even more specific for anyone who’s unclear on what the coronavirus pandemic calls for in terms of intimacy. First, the guide says that masturbation is the least likely to encourage the spread of COVID-19—as long as you’re practicing proper handwashing techniques—so solo sex is a go. Having sex with someone you live with is the next best option, according to the NYC Health Department’s guide. “Having close contact—including sex—with only a small circle of people helps prevent spreading COVID-19,” reads a statement from the guide. Heading out for a hook up is another story. “You should avoid close contact—including sex—with anyone outside your household,” continues the guidance. “If you do have sex with others, have as few partners as possible.”
The caveat is that if one or both partners feel sick—regardless of whether or not they live together—it’s best to avoid sex and kissing altogether, says Dr. Williams. “Any safe sex practices are okay right now as long as you or your partner have no reason to believe they’ve been infected with COVID-19,” she explains. “If either of you has been infected or present any symptoms of being ill at all, don’t have sex for the next few weeks.”
Planned Parenthood has also released a guide to navigating sex amid COVID-19. It points out that in addition to kissing and rimming, putting someone’s penis or a sex toy in your mouth after it’s been in someone’s anus could mean picking up the virus. It also says that using condoms or dental dams during oral and anal sex might help prevent contact with potentially-infected saliva and poop. Planned Parenthood underlined that now is not the time to skip cleaning your sex toys and washing your hands before and after sex.
Thankfully, experts across the board aren’t suggesting that sex is completely off-limits. Now that you’ve effectively taken a crash course in COVID-19 sex ed, go forth and make the most of self-quarantining.
The information in this story is accurate as of press time. As updates about coronavirus COVID-19 continue to evolve, it’s possible that some information and recommendations in this story have changed since initial publication. We encourage you to check in regularly with resources such as the CDC, the WHO, and your local public health department for the most up-to-date data and recommendations.
SHAPE and the SHAPE logo are registered trademarks of TI Gotham Inc., used under license. © 2019 TI Gotham Inc., a subsidiary of Meredith Corporation. All rights reserved. Reproduction in whole or part without written permission is prohibited.