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Wondering if it's safe to have sex during the COVID-19 pandemic? You're not alone.

Sex, after all, isn’t just about intercourse and orgasms; it is often about intimacy and relationships. It is about forming a connection with another human being. And it can be about loving and feeling loved. Studies also show that sex can be great for reducing stress and improving mental health parameters. (Read more: How to protect mental health during the COVID-19 pandemic)

So, at a time when we are all dealing with the anxiety of living through a pandemic, it is natural to wonder if we can safely turn to our partners for sex, comfort and some TLC. Unfortunately, the answer to whether or not it's safe to have sex during the pandemic is far from a straightforward yes or no.

Experts say that while it should be okay to have intercourse if you and your partner already share a bed and if you follow all the precautions of safe sex and COVID-19 prevention, sex with someone new or someone who lives in a different home and area than you can be riskier than before.

That said, there are ways to make sex safer during these times. For starters, sex doesn't have to be limited to intercourse. Read on for more information and tips.

  1. Should COVID-19 affect your sex life?
  2. Having sex with a live-in partner or spouse
  3. Sex with someone who doesn’t live in the same house
  4. Masturbation in the time of COVID-19

COVID-19 is a respiratory disease that spreads through close contact with a patient⁠—the virus can also spread through the exchange of bodily fluids such as the patient’s saliva and blood, or through infected droplets that can fall on common-use surfaces when a patient coughs, sneezes or talks. (Read more: What is droplet transmission)

Of course, maintaining physical distance from patients is one of the basic tenets of preventing many infections⁠—from the common cold to strep throat and meningitis. In the case of COVID-19, however, we need to be extra cautious for three reasons:

  • One, COVID-19 is a new disease and it will take some time for most of us to develop immunity to it.
  • Two, there is no vaccine or cure for it yet.
  • And three, many patients are asymptomatic: neither they nor you are likely to find out if they are sick. Even where patients are symptomatic, the symptoms can take anywhere from two to 14 days to appear (presymptomatic patients). That is why social distancing, or maintaining three to six feet of distance from everyone else, is so important at this time.

Since sexual intercourse would bring people closer than three feet (one meter) of each, it requires some extra precautions at this time.

Additionally, while COVID-19 is not a sexually transmitted disease, researchers have found the SARS-CoV-2  coronavirus (which causes COVID-19) in the semen of recovering patients. Albeit, the study was very small and a lot more research needs to be done to establish sex as a route of transmission of this disease.

It is relatively safe to have sex if you and your partner live in the same house, and if both of you have been taking all the preventive measures. (Read more: COVID-19 preventive measures for young and healthy people)

But there are a few caveats and precautions you should keep in mind:

  • If you or your partner test positive for COVID-19, then, of course, you should refrain from having sex, including oral sex and anal sex - at least until the isolation period is over and a doctor gives you a clean bill of health.
  • Refrain from sex, including kissing, if you feel at all sick. Better yet, isolate yourself away from other members of the household until you talk to a COVID helpline about your symptoms.
    Remember that the mild symptoms of COVID-19 are just like the flufeversore throatcoughdifficulty breathingblocked noseheadache and muscle ache. Some people may also experience unexplained fatigue, loss of sense of smell, an upset stomach or other gastrointestinal issues. So even if you feel slightly under the weather, wait it out.
  • Take extra care to wash your hands with soap and water beforehand. You can also keep a hand sanitizer handy, just in case. (Don’t worry about spoiling the mood; think of it as a new and necessary experience - one more thing that you and your partner can share, maybe even laugh about, for years to come.)

Read more: Right way to wash your hands and maintain hand hygiene

  • If you want to be extra cautious, experts recommend trying sex positions in which couples face away from each other, such as the reverse cowgirl or standing doggy style. You can also avoid kissing and cuddling. And use dental dams or condoms for oral sex.
  • Experts also advise avoiding anal fingering and rimming at this time; research has shown that former patients’ poo can have the virus for days after they have been discharged from hospital.
  • If you use sex toys, be extra careful to wash them with soap and water before and after use.

Many COVID-19 patients are asymptomatic. If you are living with someone, though, then you are probably already sharing a lot of things⁠—from utensils to bedlinen⁠—with them. Having sex will not necessarily increase your risk of getting the COVID-19 from your partner in this case.

That said, it is important to still follow all the precautions you normally take for safe sex and to prevent pregnancy.

UNICEF data shows that around 20 million babies could be born in India between 11 March and 16 December 2020. While research is still being done on whether vertical transmission of COVID-19 (from the expecting mother to the foetus in the womb) is possible, UNICEF warns that many pregnancy-linked services may be interrupted during the pandemic. So if you can, perhaps think about postponing a planned pregnancy.

Read more: COVID-19 precautions for newborns and infants

Having intercourse with someone who doesn’t live in the same house as you is less safe during the pandemic than before, even if you use condoms. That said, kissing and intercourse aren’t the only way to give and receive sexual pleasure or build intimacy. Here are a few ways you can try to have sex while maintaining enough physical distance to avoid COVID-19:

  • If you trust your partner, try sexting or getting on a video call with them. Remember, the sex is only as good as you make it. So really invest yourself in it. Do something special for yourself and your partner. You could light candles in your room or wear something that makes you feel sexy, for example. Or you could play naked poker. Whatever works for you and your partner.
  • Try mutual masturbation, with the appropriate physical distance. You can even try this on a video call from the safety of your respective homes. (Be mindful that some video calling services have dodgy privacy track records; pick one that you and your partner trust.)
  • Just talking about sex or the things you’d like to do to each other can also be exciting, depending on your equation with your partner.

Through all this, make sure you really trust the person. Remember also that consent is a big part of sex, even phone sex. Just because the pandemic is making it harder for you to meet each other, does not mean you should engage in behaviour that is highly unusual for you or do things you might even regret later.

Masturbation might be the safest sexual activity at this time, provided you follow all the precautions like washing your hands (and any sex toys) with soap and water.

Sex has many health benefits. Studies have shown that sex (not just orgasms) is a great way to reduce anxiety, relieve stress and improve overall health by promoting a sense of wellness. Research has also shown that sex can have positive effects for people living with heart disease. A small study with college students even showed the benefits of sex for immunity.

Indeed, studies have shown that sex is an important component of self-esteem, self-expression and relationship satisfaction.

Just because you have to maintain social distance to avoid this coronavirus infection does not mean you have to deny yourself all the pleasures of life - especially those pleasures that have proven health benefits. All that's needed here is a little extra planning and mindfulness about safe sex practices in the time of COVID-19!


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