Can You Get Coronavirus From Sex? What You Need to Know
Like everything, coronavirus is making sex more complicated
Many people are seeing a steamy upside to the recent quarantine measures put in place to slow the novel coronavirus and COVID-19. With everything closed, and spending hours in close proximity with your partner, why not have a lot of sex? But just like everything else in this new era, the coronavirus makes sex a little more complicated. Here are the answers to your questions about coronavirus and sexual contact.
Can you get infected with coronavirus from sex?
The short answer: Yes, absolutely. “Any close proximity can transmit the virus and I don’t know there’s any way to have sex without being very close to the other person,” Nicole E. Williams, MD, board-certified OB/GYN, gynecologic surgeon and on the faculty at the Rush University Hospital and Medical Center in Chicago, Illinois.
To understand why, you need to understand how this virus spreads. The virus that causes COVID-19 spreads in two ways, according to the most recent statement by the World Health Organization, published March 29, 2020. The first way is through droplets from an infected person that get into your mouth, nose, or eyes—which includes coughing and sneezing but also sex acts like intimate kissing. The second way you can become infected is through contact with an object that someone who has the disease has touched—for instance, touching a condom or even a bedside table after the infected person has touched it—and then touching your face and transferring the virus to your mouth, eyes, or nose.
But perhaps the most important thing to know about how this virus spreads is that people can have it and spread it to others without showing any symptoms themselves, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. So even if your partner looks healthy it doesn’t mean you’re safe.
What about oral or anal sex?
This doesn’t just include penetrative sex but all sex acts. “Thus far, we do not know if seminal or vaginal fluid transmits the virus but anything that includes close breathing, touching, kissing, and exchanging saliva or mucus can transmit the virus,” Dr. Williams explains.
In addition, some preliminary evidence shows that the virus may be able to be transmitted in fecal matter, according to a 2020 study published in Nature Reviews. So any anal sex act, including mouth-to-anus acts like rimming, may possibly add to your risk. (Here is a list of 50 interesting facts about sex you probably don’t know.)
What if your partner has COVID-19?
Telling couples living and being quarantined together not to have sex seems counterintuitive. “When you’re in a confined space with a partner and without the normal activities of daily life, it’s natural to expect an increase in sexual activity by proximity alone,” she says.
So instead of expecting couples that live together not to have sex, she says to be as smart about it as possible. The best thing you can do for your sex life is for both people to practice good social distancing with other people so they don’t bring the virus home, she says. This is especially important if one or both partners is in a high-risk category to get the disease.
However, if you know your partner has tested positive or you have good reason to believe they may have it—for instance, if they show any of these nine symptoms of COVID-19—you should avoid sex even if they seem fine, Dr. Williams says. “But if you do choose to have sex with them anyhow, it’s safe to assume you have been exposed as well,” she adds.
Are hookups OK?
Use of dating and hookup apps, like Tinder, might be on the rise during the pandemic, according to a survey done by condom manufacturer Skyn. (The non-scientific survey was taken by 2,000 adults.) There’s nothing wrong with passing the time by scrolling through profiles but think twice before you swipe right for an in-person meet up, Dr. Williams says. Remember, just because someone looks healthy doesn’t mean they don’t have coronavirus and they can still spread it, which makes hookups extremely risky.
“I do not recommend hooking up at all. It’s not okay to have sex with someone you even suspect has the virus,” she says. “The goal of social distancing is to decrease the overall transmission to keep more people from getting sick and possibly dying.” Instead, you may want to consider video dates, sexting, or chat rooms, according to this guide on sex and COVID-19 from the NYC Health Department.
Do I need to take extra precautions?
When it comes to COVID-19, you should follow normal safe sex practices, including using condoms. That won’t protect you from getting coronavirus, but the last thing you need is an STD on top of everything else, Dr. Williams says.
Another factor to consider is pregnancy. “We can expect to see a surge of ‘coronababies’ in about nine months,” she says. (Although, the idea that more babies are conceived during disasters may be a common sex myth.) If a baby isn’t in your future plans, make sure you are using birth control. People are advocating for contraceptives to be considered essential medical supplies, so you may be able to get them even if you’re under a stay-at-home order, according to the UNFPA, the United Nations sexual and reproductive health agency.
The biggest risk is yourself
When it comes to sex in the time of coronavirus, the best thing you can do is be smart and not panic—but that may be easier said than done and people may make riskier sex-related decisions when they’re scared.
“There can be a sense of fatalism that may set in after many months of uncertainty,” Dr. Williams says. “This could cause people to throw caution to the wind and take sexual risks they may not in other situations because they’re not thinking of the future, because in their minds, the future may not even exist.”
What we don’t know
Coronavirus has only been known for a few months and there is still a lot we don’t know about how it works, including how it affects sex. For instance, it’s unclear whether having the virus makes you more susceptible to sexually transmitted infections or whether sex may have some protective effect by reducing stress. “It’s important to remember that COVID-19 is a new disease and we are still learning how it spreads, the severity of illness it causes, and to what extent it may spread,” the CDC cautions.
(Do you have a story to share about coronavirus in general? Click this link to share your COVID-19 story with us.)
- World Health Organization: "Modes of transmission of virus causing COVID-19: implications for IPC precaution recommendations"
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: "How Coronavirus Spreads"
- Nicole E. Williams, MD, board-certified OB/GYN, gynecologic surgeon and on the faculty at the Rush University Hospital and Medical Center in Chicago, Illinois.
- Nature Reviews: "COVID-19: faecal–oral transmission"
- United Nations FPA: Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights: Modern Contraceptives and Other Medical Supply Needs, Including for COVID-19 Prevention, Protection and Response.
- Skyn: Sex and intimacy survey 202
- NYC Health: "Sex and Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19)"