No nonsense guide to sex and intimacy during COVID-19

The COVID-19 pandemic has affected many aspects of our lives. With the emphasis on physical distancing, we are adapting to new ways of working, socializing and connecting. In the recent weeks, I have received many questions about intimacy, dating and sex, which has been the inspiration for putting together this guide. So, whether you find yourself spending a lot more time with your partner, or you are single and ready to mingle, here are some tips to navigate sex and intimacy during the COVID pandemic.

What you need to know before you embark on sexual intimacy

Different people respond differently to stress and uncertainty. While some may use sex and intimacy as a way to connect and relieve stress, others may notice a reduction in their libido and find that sex is the last thing on their mind. Both of these responses are completely normal. It is critical that you have an open and honest discussion with your partner about their interest and comfort level before engaging in any sexual activity.

COVID-19 can be transmitted via respiratory droplets from close contact with an infected person (within approximately 2 metres). You can also be infected by touching a surface that has the virus on it and subsequently touching your face. Currently, we do not have evidence to suggest that the virus can be found in semen or vaginal fluids. There is some evidence however, that the virus can be found in saliva or feces.

There is still a lot that we do not know about the virus and our understanding of it continues to evolve. The following suggestions are based on our current understanding of the virus, which may change over time.

Single and ready to mingle

Physical distancing has meant that bars, restaurants, theatres, fitness facilities and any large gathering places are closed. You are also staying home unless going out for essential services such as groceries or heading to the pharmacy.

So, unless you have managed to master the art of dating in the grocery store line while wearing your homemade mask, in-person dating may present a unique challenge these days.

If you are single and would like to pursue dating, consider online dating. If you have found someone you are interested in and would like to go on a date, consider going on a virtual date. Have an online coffee date via video chat, or try cooking together, having a meal together or playing online games. Engage in phone conversations. Use this opportunity to get to know each other better.

Following physical distancing guidelines means that you are keeping at least 2 metres apart from those who you do not live with. If you and your new partner would like to explore the sexual side of your relationship, there are other ways to do so while maintaining your distance.

Partnered and not living together

If you are in a relationship and living apart or you have an intimate partner who does not live with you, it is important to follow physical distancing guidelines. You could use this time as an opportunity to focus on nurturing the emotional intimacy in your relationship. Focusing on each other’s needs, dreams and emotions and supporting each other.

Additionally, there are other ways you can engage in sexual expression in your relationship while maintaining your distance. Keep in mind that you are your own safest sexual partner. Masturbation does not increase your risk of exposure to the virus.

If both parties are interested, comfortable and consent to it, explore incorporating technology into your sex life. Be mindful of risks associated with security and confidentiality with the use of technology and only proceed with what you are comfortable with. You could explore sexting, sending photos (share as much as you are comfortable, you could only take photos of body parts, dim the lights, not include your face, etc.), sex over the phone or via video. Fantasize, allow your imagination to guide you, and use the anticipation to your advantage and build sexual tension. Remind yourself that as we all follow social distancing guidelines and keep our distance today, the sooner we can tackle the pandemic.

Partnered and living together

If you and your intimate partner live together, already share a bed and show no signs or symptoms of illness, your risk of exposure is unlikely to change if you engage in sexual activity. It is recommended that you continue to engage in hand washing and wash any sex toys with soap and water for at least 20 seconds prior to sexual activity and after. Some experts suggest that, since there is some evidence for oral-fecal transmission, analingus may increase your risk of exposure.

If you or your partner who you live with fall within a high-risk group (for example, a healthcare worker or someone with a high exposure to the public), the decision and level of risk you are comfortable with is up to you. There is evidence that individuals may be carrying the virus before they show symptoms or not show symptoms at all (asymptomatic). Therefore, it is possible that engaging in close contact and intimacy will spread the virus. There are currently no specific guidelines on this, so it depends on you and your partners comfort, risk tolerance and boundaries.