Here’s how to practice safe sex with new partners during the coronavirus pandemic

safe sex coronavirus
Photo via Stefan Schmitz/Flickr (CC BY 2.0)
  • Skip kissing and avoid face-to-face contact
  • Stick with as few partners as possible
  • Establish a trusting relationship with your partner

As COVID-19 continues to spread and people look for ways to maintain social interactions safely, dating continues to be tricky—especially if you’re hoping to take your relationship to the next level. From health experts to public officials, many people have offered their best advice for having safe sex during the coronavirus pandemic, apparently aka coronalingus, without increasing community spread. 

On Sept. 2, Canada’s Chief Public Health Officer, Dr. Theresa Tam, weighed in with a statement that read, “Sexual health is an important part of our overall health. However, sex can be complicated in the time of COVID-19, especially for those without an intimate partner in their household or whose sexual partner is at higher risk for COVID-19.” 

What is the safest way to engage in intercourse with another person? “Skipping kissing and avoiding face-to-face contact,” Tam said. Also, consider wearing a mask during sex. But then again, that might not be totally comfortable. Or as one physician told WBAL, “The presumption is you are sick. I don’t know about most folks, when I’m sick, just leave me alone,” 

Tam is not the first health expert to suggest mask usage during sex. In August, U.K.-based HIV and sexual health charity Terrence Higgins Trust released advice for having sex while managing COVID-19 risk. 

The charity’s advice included sticking with one partner or as few partners as possible, avoiding kissing, wearing a face mask, and favoring positions where you’re not face-to-face. It’s believed COVID isn’t passed to others through bodily fluids but instead through heavy breathing and close proximity.

“Sex is a very important part of life and asking people to avoid sex indefinitely isn’t realistic,” Dr. Michael Brady, the medical director at Terrence Higgins Trust, said. “That’s why, as the COVID-19 pandemic continues, we all need to find ways to balance our need for sex and intimacy with the risks of the spread of COVID-19.” 

Abstinence tends not to be effective either. “Abstinence-only education has never worked in any setting,” Holly Bullion, a nurse practitioner, told Mashable in September. “Now that we’re half a year into a pandemic, it’s definitely not going to work.” 

An article published by the National Institutes of Health in May discussed the safest ways to have sex during the pandemic. The institution also recommended wearing a mask and avoiding kissing when you engage in intercourse with someone outside your household. 

Here’s how Harvard ranks different kinds of sexual behavior: 

  • Abstinence: Low risk for infection, though not feasible for many 
  • Masturbation: Low risk for infection 
  • Sexual activity via digital platforms: Low risk, but people should be aware of the risk for screenshots of conversations or videos and sexual extortion 
  • Sex only with those whom one is self-quarantined with: Higher risk for infection from partner if they have been exposed while outside the home
  • Sex with persons other than those with whom one is quarantined with: High-risk behavior 

But some people haven’t been in the mood lately. One 22-year-old woman told the Daily Mail, “I’ve said no to every guy on Tinder since the lockdown started. No way am I risking my health just to get sex.” Another young woman joked to the Independent, “I think I’d get a lot of stick if I gave my friends COVID-19 for the sake of a shag.”

The Puerto Rican government unveiled a safe sex campaign in late October, saying masturbation was an effective way to avoid the coronavirus. But almost immediately, the campaign was pulled after a backlash from conservatives on the island.

In November, Vice reported that sales of adult dolls had increased heartily during the pandemic, and here are some good tips about the positives of virtual sex during the pandemic. Some sex workers, meanwhile, are struggling to survive as their earning potential has vastly decreased., and others are struggling to find friends with benefits during the pandemic.

Tam’s sexual health advice included monitoring yourself for symptoms of COVID-19, limiting alcohol and substance use to ensure you make smart choices, being aware if you or your partner may be at higher risk for the virus, and using condoms. The virus, after all, has been found in semen samples, and safe sex during the coronavirus pandemic is important. “It’s also important to remember that COVID-19 is not the only relevant infection when it comes to partnered sex,” Debby Herbenick, professor of sexual and reproductive health at Indiana University, said. “Sexually transmitted infections such as chlamydia and gonorrhea have been increasing each year.”

When in doubt, Tam said the “lowest risk sexual activity during COVID-19 involves yourself alone.” 

Sources: Canada.ca, Terrence Higgins Trust, National Institutes of Health

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