Sexual Safety and COVID-19
Updated August 3, 2021
What do we know about COVID-19 and sex?
Even though we’ve been in a pandemic for more than a year, we’re still learning new things about COVID-19 every day. That’s why keeping yourself and those around you healthy during the pandemic may require you to change how you approach sex and relationships.
COVID-19 is a disease caused by SARS-CoV-2, a virus that spreads through respiratory droplets when an infected person coughs, sneezes, or talks. When these droplets are inhaled or enter the body through the moist surfaces of the eyes, nose, or mouth, it can lead to an infection.
And while COVID-19 isn’t a sexually transmitted disease, the virus can be passed through close contact, which means that kissing or participating in any type of sexual activity can put you at risk. (Note: Studies have detected the SARS-CoV-2 virus in the semen and feces of people diagnosed with COVID-19, but more research is needed to learn if the virus can be spread through oral or anal sex.)
How can you reduce your risk of getting or spreading COVID-19 during sex?
Get vaccinated! Getting your COVID-19 shot is the best way to protect you and your partners from serious illness, hospitalization, or even death. If you haven’t gotten your shot yet, talk to your doctor or find a vaccine location near you.
While everyone should get vaccinated to protect themselves from the virus, it’s especially important if you’re at increased risk of severe COVID-19 illness. You should also get your shot if you’re planning to attend parties or gatherings in large groups, or if you engage in sex work.
People who are fully vaccinated against COVID-19 are at lower risk for getting the virus. This means that most fully vaccinated people can be in close contact and sexually intimate with other fully vaccinated people without practicing certain precautions, such as wearing a face covering. A person is considered fully vaccinated two weeks after receiving the single-dose vaccine or two weeks after the second shot of a two-dose vaccine.
You should wear a face covering when indoors (but not in your own home) if you or someone you live with has a weakened immune system or is at increased risk for severe disease due to age or another health condition. You should also wear a face covering if you live with an unvaccinated adult. Learn more about COVID-19 mask requirements in Massachusetts.
If you or your partner aren’t fully vaccinated, you should discuss the risks before having sex, especially if one or both of you have a medical condition that increases the risk of developing serious complications from COVID-19.
If you or your partner recovered from COVID-19 during the last three months, this also lowers your risk of getting or passing the virus to others.
No matter your vaccination status, wearing a face covering over your nose and mouth during sex will add an extra layer of protection.
What happens if you or your partner show coronavirus symptoms or tests positive for COVID-19?
If you’re experiencing COVID-19 symptoms or believe you may have been exposed to the virus, keep your distance from others and call your doctor or visit a testing site to get tested right away—even if you’re fully vaccinated. Just like you wouldn’t want to spread a cold or flu to a partner or loved one, you should treat the coronavirus in the same way.
If you test positive for COVID-19, no matter your vaccination status, your local Board of Health will advise you to isolate yourself from others—that is, stay indoors and avoid contact with other people. Isolation includes refraining from sharing a bedroom, bathroom, or common spaces with a partner, loved ones, or roommates for about 10 days or until the Board of Health advises that it’s safe to go back to your normal activities.
If you’ve come in contact with someone who has tested positive for COVID-19, your local Board of Health will advise you to quarantine and monitor for symptoms for up to two weeks. Fully vaccinated individuals and individuals who have recovered from COVID-19 during the last 90 days do not have to quarantine.
Masturbation is still the safest kind of sex.
If you’re feeling lonely or stressed out, now’s a good time to find new and exciting ways to please yourself. Solo sex is the safest kind of sex—and may even help you relax and sleep better. Remember to wash your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds before and after masturbating. (Same goes for your sex toys.)
Sexting and cybering are safe options, too.
If you and your partner trust each other to not post or share pics and videos without consent, then consider a virtual rendezvous. Try experimenting with phone sex or set up a Zoom or FaceTime chat.
Take a break from hooking up.
Consider limiting your sex partners to the people you live with or those in your social bubble. The sneaky thing about COVID-19 is that some people who are infected don’t show symptoms. If you usually meet sex partners online or make a living by having sex, consider alternatives to meeting in person, such as video dates, sexting, or chat rooms. If you do hook up, try limiting the number of people you come in contact with.
Preventing HIV, STDs, and viral hepatitis should still be top of mind—regardless of your vaccination status.
COVID-19 isn’t the only type of bug going around. If you’re having sex, be sure to use condoms, PrEP, or a combination of methods to prevent HIV, STDs, and viral hepatitis.
If you’re experiencing symptoms of syphilis, gonorrhea, or other STDs, talk to your doctor or healthcare provider about getting tested and treated. Don’t have a doctor? Find a clinic near you.
On PrEP? Keep up with your daily regimen.
If you’re currently taking PrEP, be sure to keep at least a 30-day supply on hand. Ask your doctor about the possibility of getting a 90-day supply to cut down on trips to the pharmacy. Learn more about taking PrEP during the pandemic.
If you’re considering going off PrEP, keep in mind that most people must have seven sex-free days before stopping PrEP to be sure that their last sex act is fully protected.
Living with HIV? Keep up with your daily regimen, too.
If you’re living with HIV, keep taking your meds and talk to your doctor if you have any COVID-19 or HIV-related concerns. Learn more about HIV and COVID-19.
Still have questions about COVID-19?
Visit the Mass 211 site or call 2-1-1, a free and confidential 24-hour health helpline.