This week the Australasian Society for HIV, Viral Hepatitis and Sexual Health Medicine (ASHM) released a new guide “Harm reduction approaches to casual sex during the COVID-19 pandemic”. It covers some important points about how COVID could be transmitted in the context of sex and ways we can all reduce the risk of infection as our communities move out of lockdown.
How Is Coronavirus Spread?
SARS-CoV-2 – the official name for the Coronavirus – is highly infectious and easily transmitted from close contact with people who are infected. Coughing, sneezing, speaking and even breathing can transmit the virus. These particles could be inhaled or from touching surfaces where the particles have landed.
Ways to reduce spread have been widely shared such as hand washing, social distancing, self-isolation if showing symptoms, and in some situations the use of face masks.
Sex is considered an “up close and personal” event which brings with it an increased risk of passing an infection.
Coronavirus has been detected in saliva & faeces. Some studies have detected Coronavirus in semen. No studies have looked at vaginal secretions however there are receptors in the vagina, uterus and ovaries that would allow infection if they came in contact with virus particles.
That being said, currently there is no evidence of transmission via exposure to semen, vaginal secretions or from faecal-oral contact ie rimming or scat.
Where are the risks for COVID infection with sex?
Absolutely by far the highest risk of sexual transmission of coronavirus would be with someone who is symptomatic, in particular early infection. Anyone showing symptoms should be self-isolating, sex could easily pass this virus (or other viruses) to your partner. Rest up, allow your body to heal.
Saliva and respiratory secretions are the most likely way an infection could be passed, and these areas are the ones that should be minimized. Kissing and close face to face contact is a high risk for transmitting the virus. Longer sessions also increase the risk of transmissions with more time together in an enclosed space.
Also remember that virus is picked up off surfaces and can easily be passed from the hands to other body parts with normal daily life. A shower or wash with soap will kill these particles before sex. It is not advised to use alcohol based hand sanitiser on the genitals.
Finally, it should be said that group sex heightens personal risk of exposure as it can lead to multiple transmissions easily if the virus is present.
Tips For Sex In The Pandemic.
Lockdown and social distancing has been hard for many people. I absolutely understand the desire to let off steam with human intimacy. Below are some ideas for ways you can stay connected and stay safe.
Look After Each Other: if you have any of the following symptoms stay self isolated and get tested. You may have an early infection with the virus: Sore throat, cough, fever, shortness of breath, runny or blocked nose, headache, loss of smell or taste, diarrhoea, muscles aches or pains
Sex At A Distance.
- Porn, cyber sex, texting, video and chats can be a way to release sexual energy. A personal safety tip is to remember that some people like to keep a memento. If this worries you don’t share anything in the heat of the moment you would not want to be passed around to other people.
- Sex toys and exploring your body can be a great release and help you find new pleasures you could explore later in time.
Meeting Up For Sex
- Before sex I recommend having a good chat about your own particular risks, concerns and if you have currently been unwell. This is a great opportunity to talk about how you want to be able to enjoy sex in ways that are safe for you both. Consent is sexy!
- For Australian readers, I recommend having the COVIDSafe App running when you catch up. Should there be any future infections this will help contact tracing. Exchange contact details in case they are needed in the future.
- Planning for shorter sessions can limit exposure time to virus particles.
- It is recommended to limit number of sexual partners, avoid group sex, consider limiting sex to people you live with or a smaller trusted network
- Be sure to clean all surfaces and touched objects in your play space before meeting up.
- High numbers and small spaces is not a great mix. Sex on premise venues and hotel room orgies pose a very high risk during this time.
Reducing Risk During Sex
- Before sex, share a shower with plenty of soap and water. This will remove any virus particles on the body before play.
- As the virus is found in breathed air and saliva it’s best to avoid kissing, saliva exchange and close face to face contact. Explore sexual positions that are not face to face.
- Condoms, dental dams and even cling film can be used for rimming & cunnilingus to help reduce exposure to bodily fluids.
- Avoid sharing toys that may have saliva, faeces or bodily fluids on them.
- BDSM and Fetish scenes can be a fun way to incorporate layers and masks… Latex and gas masks, rope and a flogger, verbal play. The exploration can be great fun and you may discover some fun new kinks.
- Thorne Harbour Health in Melbourne as well as NYC health have mentioned that the use of “glory holes” actually provide a way to engage with a partner without the risk of face to face contact. Just remember to give the surfaces as well as any body parts passed through the hole a good clean before play.
Remember COVID is not the only bug in town!
Safe sex, PrEP, TAsP and testing are still vital in helping our community stay healthy.
With the lockdown some people have come off PrEP as they were not sexually active. There have been some cases of people becoming infected with HIV during this period as they did not have adequate PrEP in the body to prevent infection.
Intermittent PrEP can be tricky and correct timing is vital for its success. If your sex may not be easily predicted or you find remembering the additional pills difficult you may wish to consider returning to daily PrEP.
As before the pandemic hit, regular sexual health screening is recommended. If you notice any pain, discharge, sores, lumps or rashes be sure to book in to see your doctor for a check up.
Some doctors, myself included, are able to organise PrEP scripts and testing via the mail. Of course 1:1 appointments are still available and recommended when required. Talk with your doctor and see if they need you to come in for a regular appointment.
If you have missed a regular screening, book in to get one done. Even you have not been active during the lockdown, is there a chance you may have picked something up before Coronavirus hit?
Team, it’s been a hard time. I don’t think I am alone in missing the joy of sex and connection. The virus means a change in the way we do some things however it’s about having an understanding of the risks and being creative in ways to enjoy sex in ways that reduce transmission.
Stay safe and look after your mates!
Dr George “The Healthy Bear”