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Can you get COVID-19 from sex?

From May 2020

Yes, but not directly. COVID-19 is not a sexually transmitted infection (STI) and has not been found in semen (come/cum) or vaginal fluids. However, COVID-19 is in saliva and mucus. It’s spread through close contact, and you can get it if you pass within 6 feet of someone with COVID-19. So even though COVID-19 isn’t spread directly through sex, you can get it from a lot of physical activities associated with sex.

A lot of what we understand about sex and COVID-19 comes from this memo from the NYC Department of Health & Mental Hygiene. Thanks, NYC!

It helps to understand how COVID-19 spreads.

According to the CDC, COVID-19 is spread when an infected person breathes, talks, sneezes or coughs. This sends tiny droplets with the virus into the air. These  can land in the mouths or noses of people nearby. They may also be inhaled into the lungs, or land on nearby surfaces. If you’re within 6 feet of someone with the virus, or touch a contaminated surface and then touch your face, you could get COVID-19.

Sexual activities that could spread COVID-19 include:

  • Kissing. Since coronavirus is in saliva, this is a very easy way for it to spread.
  • Rimming (contact between mouth and anus).  The virus has been found in feces, so it is possible that COVID-19 could be spread through rimming.
  • Touching another person with unwashed hands.
  • Being within 6 feet of someone who has the virus.

If you decide to have sex now, here are some ways to stay as safe as possible.

  • If you live with your partner, you’re already in close contact with them. Unless you’re isolating from each other because one of you has or might have COVID-19, there’s no coronavirus-related reason to avoid sex with them.
  • If you do have sex with someone outside your household, keep the number of people you have sex with small.
  • If you or your partner feels sick, do not have sex and stay at least 6 feet away from each other.
  • You and your partner should wash your hands and sex toys with soap and water for 20 seconds before and after sex.
  • Use barrier methods (like condoms or dental dams) for all kinds of sex. This includes oral sex, anal sex, rimming and penis-in-vagina (PIV) sex. Using barrier methods doesn’t only help prevent COVID-19, but helps prevent STIs and pregnancy, too!

Keep in mind that many people who have COVID-19 do not know that they have it. 

You can stay safe by staying home as much as possible, washing your hands frequently, staying 6 feet apart from others and wearing a face covering that covers your nose and mouth when you need to leave home.

So, what CAN I do?

As the NYC Department of Health points out, YOU are your own safest sex partner! Masturbation (touching yourself for sexual pleasure) is a safe and healthy way to have sex right now (or any time!). It will not turn your palms hairy or make you infertile. In fact, it’s a great way to relieve stress, which we could all use right now. Of course, it’s also normal and ok to not masturbate! You do you. (Or don’t do you, in this case.)

If you’re looking for ways to connect with your partner, try talking on the phone, video chatting, or texting. Watch TV together over FaceTime, play games, or have fun in other ways! Learn more tips for connecting with others during quarantine.

If you typically date online, now isn’t the best time to meet new partners in person. Instead, keep your dates virtual.

If you choose to sext (exchange sexually explicit messages, pictures or videos), there are some things you should keep in mind.

  • Once you send a sext, it’s out of your control. Even if you trust your partner, you ultimately can’t control their behavior. Think about whether you want to give your partner this kind of power.
  • Consent still applies in the digital world! Ask before sending naked photos. Don’t pressure your partner to do anything they feel uncomfortable with. Keep checking in with yourself and your partner to make sure you’re both comfortable and having fun.
  • If you’re video chatting, keep in mind that some platforms are more secure than others. For example, there have been reports of “Zoom bombing,” when strangers hack into other people’s Zoom meetings. If you’re using Zoom or other video conferencing software to have intimate chats or sexy times with your partner, add a password to the meeting. Do some research to see how you can keep your private times private.
  • If you and/or your partner are under 18 years old, there are additional laws you should be aware of. Nude photos of minors (people who are under 18 years old and not yet a legal adult) are considered child pornography. This means that taking, having or sharing explicit photos of anyone under 18 could have serious legal consequences—even if the person in the photo is you.
  • Don’t forget to regularly wipe down your keyboard or phone screen with a disinfectant, especially if you share it with other people.
  • Learn more here.

It’s normal and ok to miss touch or being touched.

Touch is comforting, makes us feel connected, and relieves stress. It’s completely normal to miss being hugged or held, especially if you’ don’t live with people you feel comfortable being touched by.

It’s not a perfect replacement, but try self-touch instead. Give yourself a foot, arm or leg massage, hug yourself, use some body lotion or do something else that makes you feel good.

Right now is a difficult time for everyone.

You are not alone. If you’re struggling, talk to an adult you trust about what you’re feeling. Use our mental health guide for more ideas on how to take care of yourself and stay connected with friends. If you’re looking for additional resources, check our resources guide.

For additional help, use the below helplines: