Q: Are we even wanting sex in these covid-19 days?
A: It’s hard to know yet. While some people may turn to sex for comfort or as a temporary distraction, these are unforeseen times and we don’t have much data. Depression and anxiety have a negative effect on libido. Some people are out of work, too, and unemployment can affect sexual desire. The kind of worry people are experiencing crosses so many domains: Job security, health, friends’ and family’s health, and the ability to have access to medical care, to name a few.
Q: What is considered ‘safe sex’ right now?
A: Your risk for infection with the coronavirus starts as soon as someone gets within 6 feet of you. (And of course, if you do have sex, your risk for pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases remains the same, and the previous definition of “safe sex” still applies)
You’ve read this elsewhere: COVID-19 is transmitted by droplet nuclei, tiny specks of infectious material far too small to see. They are sprayed from the nose and mouth by breathing, talking, coughing and sneezing.
A person contracts the virus sharing the same airspace – a 6-foot radius, the distance droplet nuclei are believed to travel (although with coughing they may travel farther) — and inhaling the infectious particles. Or the droplet nuclei land on an object or surface, making it infectious. Touch that surface and then your face and the chain of transmission is complete.
If you do have sex with someone who is infected with the coronavirus, there is nothing we can recommend, be it showering head to toe with soap before and immediately after sex, or using condoms, to reduce your risk of infection. We don’t know if the coronavirus is present in vaginal secretions or ejaculate, but it has been identified in stool.
Q: Who are the safest partners?
A: It’s best to limit sex to your spouse who should also be following recommendations for hand hygiene and social distancing. The World Health Organization currently lists the risk of household transmission as 3% to 10%, but this is based on preliminary data. We don’t know what role kissing or sexual activity plays in transmission.
The idea of limiting sexual contact to your husband and social distancing in general is about ending the chain of transmission to your household should one person become infected.
If your Spouse is sick with symptoms of COVID-19, or has been exposed, definitely don’t have sex. They may be too fatigued anyway, but your risk of being infected will likely go up in close, intimate contact. Sleep in separate bedrooms if possible.
If you have more than one bathroom, designate one for the sick or exposed person. Try to stay 6 feet apart and be fastidious about disinfecting surfaces. If they were exposed, living as separate as possible in your home for 14 days is adviced.
Q: What if I’m in a new relationship and had planned to get other STD testing done?
A: Many labs are overwhelmed with coronavirus testing, so you may not get results for some STDs — like gonorrhea, chlamydia and herpes — as fast as before. Given the short supply of test kits for COVID-19, so sampling kits for genital infections may be in short supply.
Ask your doctor because workflows may vary locally and may change day to day. But if you are at risk of an STD, you should still seek out a test as soon as possible.
Q: What if I don’t have a Husband ? Am I now celibate?
A: Yes, I’m sorry to say, those are the recommendations. For now. But this doesn’t mean you can’t meet people online — start talking on the phone, have video chats, if that’s your thing.
And if someone you meet online is encouraging you to meet in person? That not only tells you how they view their own safety, but, even more important, how they view yours.
Q: What about sex toys?
A: Sex toys aren’t likely to be a method of coronavirus transmission if you have been using them alone. However, if you shared your toys within the past 72 hours, make sure they are disinfected and wash your hands afterward as the virus may stay active of some surfaces for up to three days.
And do not clean sex toys with hand sanitizer or use hand sanitizer immediately before masturbating, because it can be very irritating to the vagina or rectum.
Q: Is it safe to buy new sex toys?
A: it appears that a lot of vibrators are on sale. Is this a good time to take advantage of a deal and the extra time on your hands? Paying electronically is safer than an in-store purchase: Paying online means no one is physically handling a credit card or cash. Does your online purchase of a nonessential, a vibrator is a “want,” not a “need” put someone else at increased risk? Workers at large warehouses where social distancing isn’t possible may be at increased risk, especially if they don’t have sick pay, so taking time off if exposed isn’t possible
Q: What will safe sex look like in the future?
A: Right now the only safe sex is no sex with partners outside your household. If you or yours spouse are at high risk, should you take extra precautions to further reduce the risk of transmission — giving up sex and kissing, sleeping in separate bedrooms — in case one of you has an asymptomatic infection? Asking your doctor for guidance here is probably wise.
But what about when we emerge from our homes again — which may be some months away — and start thinking about in-person dating, and mating?
No one knows if we are all going to have the urge to have sex after this quasi-hibernation. One concern is a potential surge in risk-taking and STDs. in the immediate aftermath of this covid-19 pandemic. (After all, you can’t assume that if someone was celibate during the pandemic they don’t have an STD; most STDs don’t cause symptoms and could have predated the coronavirus.
If that all sounds bleak, well, it is. For now, the coronavirus probably means less sex overall, whether that’s because of no spouse or a drop in desire. Or both.
Hopefully, though, this is just for now. Because the more everyone commits to social distancing, physical distancing the faster we can all get back — and down — to business.
Dr. Sharmila Majumdar
Director and Chief Consultant
Sexual and Mental Health Clinic
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