The Positive Side

Summer 2021 

Sex in a Pandemic

What do we need to know about sex and COVID-19? Amanda Giacomazzo breaks it down.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, public health guidelines tell us to keep physical distance between ourselves and others. This is because SARS-CoV-2 (the virus that causes COVID-19) is spread through contact between people and sometimes through touching your face after touching surfaces with the virus on them. Other guidelines include wearing new or clean face coverings, washing your hands often, and limiting contact with those outside of your household or small social circle (a “bubble”), especially in indoor spaces. So, what does this mean for your sex life?

The safest sex avoids in-person contact. This could be masturbating, sexting, or video and phone sex. But since in-person sex can help your health and well-being, these solo options aren’t always realistic. Limiting sex partners to those in your household is the next safest option, followed by limiting your partners to a small social circle.

It’s important to talk to your sex partners about COVID-19. Where possible, you should have an open conversation about if they are following public health guidelines and if they have any symptoms. If you or your partner is feeling unwell or might have been exposed to someone with COVID-19, you should avoid in-person sex.

Since those without symptoms can pass the virus, asking a sexual partner if they are feeling ill may not be enough. To reduce your risk, you could avoid kissing or sexual positions with close face-to-face contact, or even wear a face mask during sex. However, we don’t currently know the effectiveness of these strategies in the context of sex.

If you are having sex during the COVID-19 pandemic, don’t forget to take care of your sexual health. It’s a good idea to have regular tests for sexually transmitted infections (STIs) especially if you have new or multiple partners (although access to testing may vary during this time). By taking your HIV treatment and staying in touch with your doctor, you can also keep your viral load at an undetectable level, which means you can’t transmit HIV during sex. If you have a detectable viral load, your partners can take pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) or you can use condoms to prevent HIV. Condoms will also prevent other STIs.

The information in this article was based on currently available research at the time of printing related to the transmission and prevention of COVID-19.

Amanda Giacomazzo is CATIE’s manager of community programming.