Yes, Sex Can Spread Through the Coronavirus, But You Have Options

Photo credit: Carol Yepes

From Oprah Magazine

We already know we need to wash our hands, disinfect our phones, sanitize surfaces and, whenever possible, stay home. But what about the do’s and don'ts of having sex during the coronavirus outbreak from casual hook ups to quarantined lovemaking?

There is no doubt that this pandemic has thrown a curveball into our social lives, triggering anxiety that bleeds into our sexual inclinations… or lack thereof. We have suddenly found ourselves navigating a new normal, which means, in the majority of cases, less intimacy than ever may be happening IRL… but does it have to?

Whether your time spent social distancing has you swiping right and getting clever with Sexting, orchestrating romantic rendezvous through FaceTime, or thinking about having pillow talk with your partner, read on. We talked to the experts to unpack the cautionary measures you should consider before having sex during the coronavirus outbreak. (For what it's worth, you aren't likely to be able to spread the coronavirus through "sex," specifically, but that's not the whole picture.) as well as fun, inventive ways to satiate your sexual appetites… even when keeping at least 6 feet apart.

Does exchanging sexual fluids pose the same risk as swapping saliva?

The coronavirus cannot be spread through genital contact, but sexual activities often segue into the exchange of other bodily fluids—ones that pose the direct threat of contagion. Like, kissing, of course.

“Coronavirus is a respiratory virus, spread by saliva, nasal secretions, and respiratory droplets in the air from coughing or sneezing. Although it hasn’t been found in semen or vaginal fluid, it is certainly transmissible through kissing. In reality, because infectious respiratory droplets can travel up to six feet, this may inevitably occur during sex,” says Dr. Sean G. Kelly, MD, infectious disease specialist at Vanderbilt University Medical Center.

So what are the necessary precautions for couples isolated under the same roof?

The incubation period of the virus averages about five days, but can potentially stretch on for two weeks. After that, the majority of individuals are likely in the clear. So if you and your plus one have been quarantined together, neither of you are experiencing COVID-19 symptoms, and your exposure to the contagion has been minimal to none, you two love birds are likely free to have sex. “Partners living in the same household who are both strictly practicing social distancing can certainly be intimate with each other,” says Dr. Kelly.

In fact, if both parties are feeling up for it (and it’s perfectly okay if you’re not), Dr. Jess O’Reilly, PhD, Astroglide’s resident sexologist, says she highly recommends carving out time—because it’s a beautiful opportunity to walk each other through untraveled sexual fantasies, especially if your previously active lives are suddenly feeling less… busy.

… and what if you’re in a committed relationship, but have different residences?

Dr. Kelly says this is a tricky gray area that hosts less obvious opportunities for spread of the contagion—ones you may have no role in monitoring. “If one partner is consciously practicing distancing and the other isn’t, there is an obvious risk. But, if both of you are practicing distancing and one of you lives in a household where even one other person isn’t, that’s another danger,” he says.

The one and only way to have sex safely during the pandemic is for both partners to be in isolation together, or to live in households that are strictly social distancing,

In general, if you and your partner live in separate quarters, and particularly if you share common areas with other people, it’s probably best that you let your love (or lust) play out from afar. Because the more exposure is involved, the more opportunities for cracks to form within your code of safety. "The one and only way to have sex safely during the coronavirus pandemic is for both partners to be in isolation together, or to live in households that are strictly social distancing, but that can be difficult to manage,” says Dr. Kelly.

Are casual hookups a thing of the past… at least for the time being?

Though it remains a temptation for many singles, the hookup culture has become more nuanced as of late. For example, a suitor’s mention of overseas travel may become an instant buzzkill to the libido, or a stockpile of sanitizer suddenly look like the ultimate aphrodisiac. And Tinder’s Instagram account has pivoted in personality—boasting a collage of coronavirus-related memes, poking fun at the 2020 single’s sudden need for sexy penpals.

Still, social media hosts evidence of those who claim to be under the constraints of social distancing, yet continue to retreat to friends’ homes for small gatherings, as well as engage in low-key meet-ups one-on-one. Dr. Kelly says this behavior not only poses the threat of contagion through coughing or touching a contaminated surface, but increases the likelihood of impulsive trysts—the kind that might spill over into further encounters.

If we’re truly going to “flatten the curve,” social distancing should not include inviting someone over for coffee or cocktails, or finding social loopholes to crawl through, argues Dr. O’Reilly. “Hanging out and hooking up in person is off the table right now. For the safety of everyone, this is the time to date virtually. The public health authorities have clearly stated that we should not be continuing to meet up—even in small, private ways,” she says.

For the safety of everyone, this is the time to date virtually.

Dr. Kelly stresses that no matter how much you and a potential new love interest may be seduced by the idea of being in each other’s arms—or crawling under each other’s bed sheets—refrain. “We have never faced a pandemic like this before. Going forward, we have to think carefully about if our actions are spreading coronavirus transmission. Since this outbreak affects our entire population, we have to thoughtfully balance our own emotional well-being, health, and physical safety, and realize that our actions will affect the emotional well-being, health, and physical safety of everyone around us,” he says.

Try not to be so distracted that you neglect standard safe sex practices…

Dr. Kelly urges that, if you are going to have sexual intercourse during the coronavirus outbreak, to continue to be vigilant about protecting yourself from unwanted pregnancies and sexually transmitted infections. It matters now more than ever. “With our healthcare capacity mainly directed elsewhere for now, it may be harder to get tested or treated for STIs,” he says.

And if you're enjoying some self-love wash your hands first...and computer.

Nadine Thornhill, Ed.D, sexuality educator, says that we should also take measures to sanitize all of our sexy devices as well—from our fingertips to our keyboards. “For folks using their computers, phones and tablets for Sexting, video dates, or watching porn, don’t forget to disinfect them and wash your hands—before and after. This is especially important to do if other people, like your kids or partner, use those same devices.”

If you’re quarantined with your lover, see it as an opportunity to fuel the passion…

Some couples may find that quarantining affords them more time than ever for sex. From dressing up to role playing, even a run-of-the-mill board game can be turned into a competitive romp. But others may feel as though their world has suddenly become disconcertingly crowded—say, with a cluster of kids trampling over their feet.

Dr. O’Reilly challenges all couples to adopt a spirit of invention and playfulness during the pandemic, but especially those who are short on mental and physical breaks. For example, sneaking around behind your kids’ backs, fondling or Sexting each other while they’re distracted with cartoons and mealtimes, making a red-hot game of it. In essence, you can let the claustrophobia of your situation cause your intimacy to flatline, or search for an element of playfulness through the challenges—maybe even giving your love life a reboot.

Attached or not, if you’re on the fence about virtual dating, it’s time to have an open mind.

Dr. Kelly says it’s our new reality… for now. But that’s not necessarily a horrible thing. Our virtual world gives us the opportunity to roll out the red carpet for new angles of connection and pleasure—ones that transcend being chest-to- chest.

“Nations are being run, multi-million dollar deals are being brokered, and therapists and doctors are seeing patients—all online. So it’s pretty safe to say that your sex life doesn’t have to stop just because the only safe option is for it to be executed virtually. The beauty of technology is that it allows us to hear each other’s voices, make eye contact and experience each other’s body language,” says Dr. O’Reilly.

So if you and your sexual partner are trying to continue your relationship with miles between you, Dr. O’Reilly suggests getting clear with them about how they prefer to stay in communication—to ensure that the torch of connection remains aglow. While sexy images and videos are a stimulating way to pique your partner’s interest and curiosity, arousing them and giving them something to look forward to on the other side of confinement, she dares you not to stop there. “Many of us are auditory learners, so sexy voice notes can go a long way. They are more personal, less rehearsed and unedited, so there is that deeper level of connection and vulnerability as well,” she says. “You could even reach into each other’s spank bank and reminiscence about hot things you did together in the past.”

Single and bummed that you can’t mingle? As isolated as you may feel, in some ways, our world is becoming more compact than ever. A week after Tinder delivered a note of caution to users about hooking up during the outbreak, saying “Your wellbeing is our #1 priority,” the app announced that they would be making a change to their premium Passport feature through April 30—allowing all the chance to swipe right for anyone across the entire globe—for free. So, in the event that you stumble upon someone you like, even if half a world away, you could make a delicious dinner spread, light a row of candles, slide on your sexiest negligee and log on for a virtual date—in the safe, non-threatening comfort of your living room.

Thornhill says to always stay within your comfort level, but to not let your inhibitions dissuade you from the benefits of going digital with your erotic urges. “Sexual interactions that happen online carry no risk of STIs, no risk of unintended pregnancy, and no risk of spreading COVID-19,” she says.

Anticipation can be a powerful aphrodisiac...

Whether committed and forced apart or exploring a new attraction, Dr. O’Reilly says to never underestimate the ability of anticipation to spark desire—giving you and your partner a rush of the pleasure chemical dopamine, which is intoxicating… and can make you wildly hot for one another. “Dopamine is higher during the anticipation of reward, rather than when experiencing the reward itself. So, in the case of social distancing, this can be an extremely fun and exciting time for you and your partner sexually.”

While this international upheaval has transformed the way we socialize, Dr. O’Reilly is confident that it can have an exciting impact on our sex lives. “Some people are critical of online dating, saying that it lacks tone, depth and nuance, but that is not true,” she says.

And a season of social distancing may mean even hotter sex on the other side…

“This is a difficult time in our world, but it’s also one of discovery–a time to assess your values, even sexually. The benefits you reap will outlast this social distancing and isolation,” says Dr. O’Reilly.

Who knows—maybe all of this quarantined intimacy-building will generate a world of sexual epiphanies—feeding our sexual inspirations on the other side of freedom’s return. So, while this pandemic may have the majority of us locked inside of our homes, against our libido’s will, it may present us with an opportunity to more colorfully live out our unique expressions.

Dr. Kelly says that if you’re one of the ones feeling forlorn about your dating or sex life being forced on hold, imagine your future self looking back on the you of today—perhaps in a chokehold of boredom and restlessness, pining for the days of sexy patio hangs, happy hour toasts and impromptu OKCupid meet-ups, and ask if you’re doing all that you can to prevent transmission of the coronavirus… even if it means making temporary sacrifices. Because the state of your health—present and future—as well as that of your loved ones and peers, deserves it.

“We must remember that this isn’t going to last forever,” says Dr. Kelly. “So if we can do the kind and loving thing for ourselves and for each other, which is to step back physically for the time being, our future selves should expect to prepare for some pretty amazing sex on the other side.”