We’re all social distancing right now. And that begs the question: how do you have sex in the era of COVID-19 self-isolation? Is it even safe to have sex during the pandemic?
First, the facts. COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, is spread by direct person-to-person contact or by people who are close to (within six feet) of each other—as it’s believed that the virus is expelled in respiratory droplets from a cough or sneeze, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which you can then inhale. You can also pick it up from contaminated surfaces if you then touch your face without washing your hands properly first and therefore introduce the pathogen into your body.
So, yes, sex can contribute to spreading the coronavirus. You’re clearly close enough to someone when you’re naked on top of each other, and you are also probably kissing, or at least breathing heavily.
But it’s not contracted directly from sex. “The coronavirus is a respiratory virus. It can be transmitted through your saliva and intimate contact, but it is not directly transmitted genitally,” Mark Surrey, MD, a clinical professor in the department of obstetrics and gynecology at UCLA’s David Geffen School of Medicine, tells Health. That distinction matters, because safe sex during the pandemic depends on your current relationship situation and, well, why you’re having sex in the first place.
If you’re single and dating
Because of social distancing or state-mandated shelter-in-place guidelines, it’s not okay to go out on dates right now—unless those dates are over FaceTime or some other video chat app.
The New York City Health Department recently issued guidelines on COVID-19 safe sex practices, recommending against having sex with anyone outside of your household. (In other words, someone you already live with.) The idea of having a “sex buddy”, where you and they only have sex with each other during the pandemic, is not recommended, wrote ob-gyn Jen Gunter in The New York Times. First of all, the idea goes against social distancing, and you don’t actually know how closely (if at all) they’re staying away from other people, she warned.
What kind of sex can people who are single and on the dating scene have? The New York City guidelines put it this way: “You are your safest sex partner.” Masturbation is both safe and satisfying, and the health department recommends washing your hands and any sex toys for 20 seconds with soap prior to using them, which is also a good idea as a general hygiene habit.
If you’re dating but not living together
If you and your partner are not quarantining together, then you two must social distance from each other. And social distancing sex means having phone sex or sexting (words or images). There’s obviously absolutely no physical contact with either option.
If you don’t know how to initiate or what to say to get you (and your partner) off, try dropping your voice just a bit, using an app you save only for sexting (only to help you “switch” into a sexy mindset), and listening and responding to what they say rather than planning your every move. Video sex is certainly COVID-19-safe, but not always socially safe. If you do sext videos, do it with a trusted partner, aka one you know won’t save or take video or images of what you’re doing virtually and send them to others.
If you’re living with a partner
Do they have COVID-19? Do you? If the answer to either is yes, or you have suspected exposure and are in quarantine/isolation, you should not be having any physical contact sex right now, and you should be staying in separate bedrooms anyway, says the CDC.
Consider taking precautions if you or your partner falls into a higher risk group (like they are immunocompromised or have a chronic condition like diabetes) by making the decision to skip physical sex altogether, suggests The New York City Health Department.
If you and your household partner have not been exposed to anyone with COVID-19, are showing no symptoms, feel healthy, and have no reason to believe you might be harboring the virus, you can have sex, says Dr. Surrey.
If you’re having sex to have a baby
For many women, the idea of putting their dreams of having a baby on hold is agonizing. “There is the question of whether or not women should be getting pregnant right now,” says Dr. Surrey, who is the associate director at the Southern California Reproductive Center in Beverly Hills. So, is it safe to have sex…to have a baby? There is some evidence that suggests vertical transmission—or mom-to-baby transmission of the virus during pregnancy or delivery—is possible. (However, more research on this needs to be done, as this is not definitive.)
Still, there’s a lot of speculation that we’re in for a baby boom at the end of the year. If you were to conceive a baby while one partner had COVID-19 (remember, people can be asymptomatic, so you may not know if you have it), it does not appear that the virus is transmitted via sperm or eggs, so the resulting embryo shouldn’t be affected, says Dr. Surrey.
Again, keep in mind that the understanding of the new coronavirus and how it spreads continues to change. “For couples trying to procreate right now, I suggest being more vigilant about avoiding social contact and hand hygiene, but it’s tricky to come up with clear parameters,” says Dr. Surrey.
The information in this story is accurate as of press time. However, as the situation surrounding COVID-19 continues to evolve, it’s possible that some data have changed since publication. While Health is trying to keep our stories as up-to-date as possible, we also encourage readers to stay informed on news and recommendations for their own communities by using the CDC, WHO, and their local public health department as resources.