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Sex, Intimacy, and Coronavirus: What We Know Right Now

Woman wearing medical mask

By: Brittany Risher

The declaration of COVID-19, a.k.a. coronavirus, as a pandemic has everyone stocking up on canned goods and toilet paper. Almost 1,235,199 cases have been reported worldwide, with close to 277,205 cases reported in the United States as of April 4th, 2020.

As more people self-quarantine, work from home, and distance themselves in other ways in order to try to avoid catching COVID-19, it's inevitable that at least some of us are thinking about copulating. (It's a natural human urge, after all.) But is it OK to have sex right now?

As long as you practice good basic hygiene and neither you or your partner have symptoms or have been around someone who is suspected of having COVID-19, most likely, yes.

From what we know, coronavirus does not appear to spread through sexual intercourse, says relationship and intimacy expert Alexandra Stockwell, MD, author of Uncompromising Intimacy, who is also trained in family medicine.

Like influenza or cold viruses, COVID-19 is transmitted through small droplets. When someone who has coronavirus coughs or sneezes, they send these droplets into the air. If others breathe in these droplets or touch surfaces where the droplets land and then touch their eyes, nose, or mouth, they can contract coronavirus. That is why it's essential to not only wash your hands but to wash them properly.

Beyond that, here is what health experts advise when it comes to sex and coronavirus, based on what we know about other viruses that be passed through similar methods. While COVID-19 and influenza and cold viruses are not the same things, what we know about colds and the flu can give some insights as to how best to stay healthy.

Is it OK to have sex right now?

If you and your partner(s) have no symptoms and have not been in contact with anyone who may have been exposed to COVID-19 (i.e. you have not traveled to any countries with an outbreak or been around anyone known to have COVID-19), you should be fine.

On the other hand, if you or the person(s) you desire to have sex with show any symptoms, it's best to avoid all intimacy. “Anyone that it makes sense to avoid being close to is also someone to avoid being intimate with right now,” Stockwell says. Even if you only choose sex positions that keep you from being face-to-face, you put yourself or your partner(s) at risk.


Does kissing spread coronavirus?

Most likely, yes. Consider this: We're being advised to stay three to six feet away from anyone who coughs or sneezes. Those same droplets that carry the coronavirus come the same mouth you would be kissing, and French kissing exchanges saliva that could also carry the virus. Even if you don't swap spit, “with both people’s faces so close to one another, the transmission through the air becomes very likely,” Stockwell says.

What about oral sex?

The actual act of going down on someone is not known to transmit coronavirus, Stockwell says. But again: You're this close to someone else, and if, say, someone who has coronavirus performs fellatio and then anyone touches the penis and then their face, it could, in theory, transmit the virus. You touched a penis that has some saliva on it, and that saliva could contain the virus. Again, this is only if the person who did the job has coronavirus. If you have no symptoms and are not at risk, though, you are likely fine. “I would recommend showering with soap prior to any sexual acts as a simple way to be extra careful since we don’t have all the information we need to make definitive statements,” Stockwell adds.

OK, how about the backdoor?

COVID-19 has been detected in fecal matter. However, it's unclear if anal sex could spread coronavirus. If you are certain you and your partner(s) are healthy, follow best practices, always using a condom and washing anything (body parts or sex toys) before and after anal sex.

Can I use hand sanitizer on my genitals and sex toys?

You can but you really shouldn't. “Hand sanitizer should not be on the anal area or female or male genitals,” Stockwell says. “The ingredients in hand sanitizers may cause irritation and burning on sensitive areas such as the anus, vulva, vagina, and penis.”

woman on computer

So what can I do if I want to have sex?

If you are still concerned about being exposed to COVID-19 during sex, “there are plenty of ways to have hot sex that minimizes exposure,” says New York sex therapist Michael DeMarco, PhD. He suggests using a webcam to have sex with someone virtually or to masturbate in front of each other.

Or have a solo session—just be sure to wash your hands and any sex toys beforehand, Stockwell says, and then again afterward. (As you normally would when using a vibrator.) “And keep the sex toys in a box or a drawer in order to avoid unnecessary exposure to aerosol droplets,” Stockwell adds.

Whatever you do, keep washing your hands and if you are having sex, it's a chance to have important conversations with your partner(s). “The coronavirus is one more big reason to have good, clear communication with someone prior to having sex with them. And whether or not you are going to have sex, sharing your concerns in a vulnerable way creates more connection and emotional intimacy,” Stockwell says. “If you are not comfortable having sex with someone for any reason, be clear in your boundaries and stick to them.”

I have more questions about coronavirus?

We are learning more about coronavirus every day, but there's also a lot of misinformation out there. Stick to the CDC or WHO for accurate information and updates. For example, both have tips on how to protect yourself and loved ones, what to do if you are sick (call before you visit the doctor), and more.