Vancouver (from BC Centre for Disease Control) – ‘let’s talk about sex, baby — let’s talk about it” – Salt-N-Pepa circa 1990.
“Oh, the kissing question, again” – Dr. Bonnie Henry
If you’re feeling fine and have no symptoms of COVID-19, you can still have sex. If you’re feeling sick, skip sex.
Sex can be very important for mental, social and physical well-being; it is a part of everyday life. People can, will and should continue to have sex during the COVID-19 pandemic. Messages that discourage or shame people from sexual contact can be harmful and may discourage people from seeking essential sexual health services.
You should always make informed and consensual decisions about sex. This resource offers some tips and strategies to help reduce the spread of COVID-19 to you, your partner(s) and your community.
How COVID-19 spreads
The COVID-19 virus is spread by liquid droplets in saliva and respiratory (breathing) fluids when a person coughs, sneezes and, sometimes, when a person talks or sings. It can be spread to people who are within 2 metres (about 6 ft) of a person with the virus if the droplets are inhaled (breathed in) or land in the mouth or nose of someone nearby – whether you are engaged in sexual activity or not. It can also be passed by touching contaminated surfaces and then touching the face, eyes, nose, or mouth.
The virus has been found in semen and feces (poop). It is not yet clear if the virus can be transmitted through sex. You are your safest sex partner; your next-safest sex partner(s) is/are the person(s) you live with, or the person(s) who has close contact with only you and no one else.
If you’re feeling sick, skip sex
You should not have sex with anyone if you or your partner(s) has:
- Symptoms of COVID-19,
- Been a contact of, or had exposure to, a known case of COVID-19, or
- Been advised to self-isolate.
If you’re feeling well and have no symptoms of COVID-19, you can have sex
You are your safest sex partner. Masturbating by yourself (solo sex) will not spread COVID-19. If you masturbate with a partner(s), physical distancing will lower your chance of getting COVID-19.
Video dates, phone chats, sexting, online chat rooms and group cam rooms are ways to engage in sexual activity with no chance of spreading COVID-19. Be aware of the risks of sharing information or photos online, and web camming. Some people do not share personal information or show their face or other identifiable body parts, for more privacy.
Sex with partner(s):
Having 1, or a few, regular sex partner(s) can help lower the chances of being exposed to COVID-19. Talk with your sex partner(s) about:
- The types of sexual activities you want to have with them, and
- The precautions that you can each take to make sex safer for you and your sex partner(s), like wearing a mask and social distancing, and
- Whether you or your sex partner(s), or anyone you are in contact with, have a higher chance of getting a more serious COVID-19 illness (such as someone with an underlying medical condition like diabetes, lung disease, cancer or a weakened immune system)
Talking about these things will help you and your sex partner(s) make informed decisions about sex, your health and the health of others.
Steps to protect yourself during sex
Here are some ways to lower the risk of being exposed to COVID-19 during sex with others:
- Ask your partner(s) if they’re feeling unwell or have any symptoms of COVID-19.
- Before and after sex:
- Wash your body with soap and water.
- Wash your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds.
- Wash sex toys thoroughly with soap and water before and after use. Do not share them with multiple partners.
- Wear a face covering or mask. Heavy breathing during sex can create more droplets that may transmit COVID-19.
- Avoid or limit kissing and saliva exchange.
- Choose sexual positions that limit face-to-face contact.
- Use barriers, like walls (e.g., glory holes), that allow for sexual contact but prevent close face-to-face contact.
- Using condoms, lubricant, and dental dams may help to further reduce the risk by minimizing contact with saliva, semen and feces during sex.
Continue to seek sexual health services, such as testing for HIV and STIs or for contraception.
- Most sexual health clinics are still open but many have reduced their hours or services.
- Check clinic finder on SmartSexResource or contact your local clinic before visiting.
- First Nations people (covered by First Nations Health Authority) may access regular, non-urgent STI testing services by either visiting their healthcare provider, if they can, or by calling 1-855-344-3800 to book an appointment with a virtual-doctor-of-the-day.
- Medical Office Assistants are available for First Nations people 7 days a week from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m..
- If you want to get tested for STIs without seeing a healthcare provider in person, GetCheckedOnline is a confidential program developed by the BC Centre for Disease Control. After creating an online account, your tests will be recommended based on online assessment questions, and you can provide your samples for testing at participating lab locations in Vancouver, Victoria, Duncan, Kamloops, Nelson, and Kimberley. If you do not have an existing account, you can create one at GetCheckedOnline.
- If you have symptoms of an STI, were notified as a contact to someone with an STI, need to get started on HIV Pre Exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP), have questions about birth control or pregnancy, or have another reason to be seen, contact your local sexual health clinic or health care provider.
- Regular sexual health screening is also important if you are sexually active, even if you don’t have symptoms.
- If you’ve had a high risk exposure to HIV in the past 3 days and think you might need Post-Exposure Prophylaxis (PEP), go to your nearest emergency department or contact one of the consultation sites listed on the HIV Post-Exposure Prophylaxis page of BC Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS website.
Information adapted from: NYC Health Department: Sex and Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19)
Guidance for sex workers
- Visit NYC Health Department for more information on safer sex and COVID-19.
- Visit the Smart Sex Resource for more information on STI and HIV treatment and prevention.