Sex and Coronavirus
Sex during the coronavirus pandemic requires a whole new set of precautions on top of those that prevent pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases (STD) such as HIV-AIDS, syphilis, chlamydia, gonorrhea or herpes.
Can You Get Coronavirus From Sex?
The short answer is yes. The novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) is more contagious than any STD because it is spread by droplets in the air. You can catch it just by being less than 6 feet away from an infected person. You can get it from touching a surface that was recently touched by a person who has COVID-19.
Your risk goes up significantly with close contact, such as shaking hands. Simply getting close enough to have intercourse puts you at risk, regardless of whether you have sex. Contact that involves direct transmission of bodily fluids, such as kissing, would put you at greater risk.
Recently, coronavirus was detected in semen but has not been detected in vaginal fluids of infected patients. Coronavirus is also present in saliva and respiratory secretions such as coughs and sneezes, as well as in urine and feces.
Sex and Coronavirus Transmission
Researchers believe that as much as 33 percent of people who are infected with coronavirus show few or no symptoms but can still infect others. So even if your partner has no symptoms, you could get the virus from them.
However, people with symptoms are the most likely to transmit the virus. If your partner has had a fever, cough or shortness of breath recently, refrain from close contact or sexual activity (genital, oral or anal) until your partner has seen a doctor.
During sex, wearing a mask is not likely to prevent transmission if one of the partners has COVID-19.
You should stay away from each other as much as possible until a doctor makes an evaluation. You should refrain from sex and close contact until they have recovered, but keep in mind they might still be "shedding" the virus for a few weeks afterward. Remember you are your safest sex partner and that masturbation is always safe sex.
Precautions for a Partner You Live With
For sexual partners who live together and who both have been following all recommended ways to avoid the coronavirus, there is lower risk of transmitting coronavirus through sexual activity.
However, if one of you is more exposed to the virus, such as through going to work, then it is a good idea to take precautions, not just about sex but about other ways to prevent the virus.
These include cleaning and disinfecting surfaces, frequent hand-washing and social distancing (which unfortunately rules out having sexual intercourse with people you may be concerned about catching the virus from).
If you are worried that a partner could be infected, the best thing to do would be to postpone sex until you are surer of their health status.
Precautions for a Partner You Don't Live With
It is riskier to have sex with a partner you don't live with. If you do not live with your partner, you can't know exactly how much they are taking precautions.
If you have met someone online and want to meet without danger, keeping it online is the safest way to date. You can communicate through phone calls, video chats or other online methods.
In fact, the risks of becoming infected with the novel coronavirus from kissing, shaking hands or just sitting close enough in a café to hear each other are nearly as high as the risk of catching it through sexual contact.
If you feel ready to meet in real life, be aware of your state and city requirements to ensure you are not violating a state order by going out on a date. You might also be required to wear a mask. As long as there are no stay-at-home orders in place, you could choose an outdoor location to meet, stay in your cars or outdoors, 6 feet apart.
If you hit it off, consider mutually agreeing to practice physical distancing from others for 14 days to rule out either of you being exposed to the virus. Then, it may be safe to meet if both continue to be without symptoms.
Coronavirus and Safe Sex
Although coronavirus can be transmitted during sex, it is not classified as an STD. STDs are transmitted primarily through direct genital and/or oral contact or through bodily fluids. Coronaviruses are transmitted primarily through respiratory droplets. Even though some coronavirus has been found in the semen of infected patients, we do not have evidence that it can be transmitted through sexual fluids.
Following safe sex rules will not protect you from the coronavirus, but it will protect you from STDs. Safe sex means using condoms correctly in every single sexual encounter.
Pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) is a drug therapy that has been found to reduce the chance of contracting HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. PrEP protects you from HIV, not from coronavirus.
PrEP includes an antiviral drug. Researchers are testing several antiviral drugs to see whether any of them can also prevent transmission of the new coronavirus, but it is far too early to know. Right now there are no approved medications for coronavirus.
You should continue taking PrEP if your healthcare provider has prescribed it. If you stop taking it because you aren't having any sexual contact, talk to your provider about when and how to start again.
Birth Control During the Pandemic
If you use contraceptives (including birth control pills, patches, rings, shots) or any prescription drugs, make sure those prescriptions are current. Plan ahead when it comes to filling those prescriptions.
If you use condoms as protection, keep enough of those, as well. Your pharmacy probably offers delivery, so plan for enough time to give them a chance to get your birth control or condoms to your door.
The Maryland Contraceptive Equity Act ensures that you can obtain up to 12 months of birth control at a time so you don't have to go to the pharmacy often.
Don't forget that emergency contraception such as Plan B is still available in many pharmacies and can also be obtained without prescription.
If you think you may be pregnant, it is important to contact your provider immediately so you can get the correct medical care and be counseled on your pregnancy options. Pregnancy care and abortion options continue to be available as essential medical care during this time.
Right now, doctors do not think pregnant women are any more at risk for getting coronavirus than the general population. Read more about pregnancy and coronavirus.
Domestic Violence in the Pandemic
With the stresses of the staying at home, people in abusive relationships are at even greater risk of abuse with limited ability to seek help. If you or someone you know is experiencing verbal, sexual or physical abuse, please contact your healthcare provider or one of these domestic violence hotlines.
If you are ever in a situation where your partner is trying to control or prevent how you protect yourself during sex, whether that involves asking not to use a condom during sex or hiding your birth control pills, please contact your healthcare provider and consider asking your provider to prescribe you back-up birth control options or emergency contraception.
Thanks to Our Expert:
Jessica Karen Lee, MD, MPH - Assistant professor in the Department of Obstetrics, Gynecology and Reproductive Sciences at the University of Maryland School of Medicine