When the prevailing message is to stay six feet apart from other people at all times, one of the things that may not have been top of mind during a global pandemic is sex. Indeed, that’s proven to be the case since spring 2020 when COVID-19 first became a global concern, with nearly half of the participants in an Indiana University survey reporting a reduction in sexual behaviors.
But with restrictions getting rolled back in many states and the weather warming up, some of that pent-up desire may be ready to break loose in a big way. As BuzzFeed so eloquently put it in a recent article, “many Americans are looking forward to getting back out and getting busy.” Need some proof to back up that assertion? Condom sales are way up compared to last year after a sales slump in 2020, and the sextech industry is booming.
The potential issue, of course, is that the pandemic isn’t over yet, which makes intimate encounters a little more uncertain than in normal times. What if one partner is vaccinated and the other isn’t? How safe is sex if my second vaccine shot appointment is still a few weeks away? Here are some of the things you should consider before any increase in sexual activity.
Yes, you can get COVID-19 from having sex with an infected partner
The best place to start is with the simplest question: Is there a risk of transmitting COVID-19 between partners during sex? According to the Mayo Clinic, the answer is an unequivocal “yes.” While COVID-19 is not classified as a sexually transmitted infection, or STI, because there’s no evidence it can be passed through semen or vaginal fluids (though more research is necessary to know for sure), many sexual behaviors can expose people to bodily fluids that do – particularly saliva, or even sweat.
Sharing indoor space with a person for a significant amount of time, not to mention touching your eyes or mouth after coming into contact with an infected person’s droplets, is a definite hazard during sex. And while you could take steps to lessen that risk, let’s face it: hooking up with masks on just isn’t that sexy. Unless you’re into that sort of thing. The best advice from doctors here is to avoid sexual intimacy with people who have tested positive for COVID-19 or show signs of illness and have yet to be tested.
Two vaccinated partners better than just one?
When it comes to sex and COVID-19 vaccines, the guidance from healthcare professionals is much the same as it is for just getting together and hanging out. If both people are fully vaccinated – and remember, that means the full two weeks after your final dose – then you’re low risk. If only one person is vaccinated, it’s safer than none, but you should err on the side of caution if the unvaccinated person is in a high risk category for serious illness due to COVID-19.
Of course, a person’s vaccination status is personal, and perhaps private. That could lead to some potentially uncomfortable conversations, but under the circumstances, those are talks worth having before getting intimate.
Another option to reduce risk is for both people to get rapid over-the-counter Covid tests and do them before they meet up to ensure you’re both negative. That substantially lowers the risk of the encounter.
The normal rules of safe sex still apply
Just because people are ready to get back to their regularly scheduled sex lives doesn’t mean that diseases other than COVID-19 are going to do them the courtesy of taking a few months off. Doctors are worries that a summer of sex could also mean a summer of STIs, and there are numbers to back up that concern. The six years prior to the pandemic were each new record highs for STI cases in the U.S., which is a disturbing trend if there ever was one.
The tools available for education and prevention of STIs could easily fill up several additional blog posts, so the common sense suggestion here is this: Take some of the lessons from the last 14 months about open discussion, caution, and well-reasoned choices, and apply them here too. That can help stop the spread of both COVID-19 and STIs, and hopefully make whatever awaits over the rest of 2021 a lot safer and more fun for everyone.