- Until the coronavirus pandemic is eradicated, sex of any kind could increase a person’s COVID-19 risk, according to a Friday letter from three doctors and public-health experts.
- They said people should consider masturbation and phone sex because of the close proximity required for partnered sex — though they acknowledged that could be impractical in the long term.
- There is also some limited evidence semen could transmit the virus.
- The team warned that sex with a live-in partner carried risks if the person had been to a grocery store or had been in contact with people outside in any capacity.
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After much speculation over the potential of sex to spread COVID-19, doctors are warning that sex acts of any kind, whether with a live-in partner or not, could increase a person’s risk of getting the virus.
On Friday, three doctors and public-health experts published a letter in the journal Annals of Internal Medicine in which they explained how sex might contribute to COVID-19 risk.
The doctors drew on existing research that found that the novel coronavirus could live on surfaces for multiple days and that many people with COVID-19 were asymptomatic to make their recommendation to abstain from sex with others to decrease COVID-19 risk.
“Infected individuals have the potential to spread respiratory secretions onto their skin and personal objects, from which the virus can be transmitted to a sexual partner,” they wrote.
Phone sex and masturbation are the safest ways to have sex right now
The doctors outlined the various ways people may be having sex and their varying risks for COVID-19 transmission.
After sexual abstinence, they said that masturbation was the safest way to have sex and that people who masturbated should take care to wash their hands and any sex toys before and after self-pleasure, as outlined by Planned Parenthood.
The doctors also mentioned phone and video sex but said people should be aware of whom they sext with and the risks that come with sexting, like sexual extortion or the sharing of imagery.
Partnered sex of any kind is risky, doctors say
The doctors warned against partnered sex because of the close proximity required for it.
That even goes for people who typically have sex with someone in their household with whom they’ve been isolating.
If your live-in partner comes into contact with an infected person during grocery shopping or other essential errands, the doctors said, you could become infected. They said that risk only increases for people who have sex with people outside their households.
There’s also some limited, and conflicting, evidence that semen could transmit COVID-19. Though two small studies found no traces of the virus in vaginal secretions or semen, another small study of 38 semen samples detected the virus in six of them.
Experts don’t know whether semen can transmit the virus, but the doctors said the public should be extra cautious in case it could. They said the same of urine.
Advice on sex and COVID-19 risk has been mixed
Before the doctors’ letter, advice on safe sex during the coronavirus pandemic has been mixed.
On March 21, New York City health officials created a guide to safe sex during the pandemic. The officials said masturbation was the safest way to have sex and urged people to avoid anal sex because of possible transmission risk.
In mid-April, Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Disease and a key advisor in the White House coronavirus task force, told Vanity Fair that sex wasn’t off the table.
“If you’re swiping on a dating app like Tinder, or Bumble, or Grindr, and you match with someone that you think is hot, and you’re just kind of like, ‘Maybe it’s fine if this one stranger comes over.’ What do you say to that person?” the reporter Peter Hamby asked Fauci.
“You know, that’s tough,” Fauci said. Mulling it, he gave a diplomatic response, saying that while it’s possible to carefully plan a hookup during the pandemic, people should recognize that the risks they’re opening themselves — and others — up to.
“It’s what’s called relative risk,” Fauci said. “If you’re willing to take a risk — and you know, everybody has their own tolerance for risks — you could figure out if you want to meet somebody.”
He said it’s probably best to postpone hookups for now if you “don’t want to have any part of this virus.”
People should continue to practice safe sex and do what works for them
The doctors who wrote the letter acknowledged it’s unrealistic to expect most live-in partners to abstain from sex during the pandemic.
“For the population at large, a recommendation of long-term sexual abstinence is unlikely to be effective, given the well-documented failures of abstinence-based public health interventions and their likelihood to promote shame,” they wrote.
For that reason, they suggested people weigh the risks of their preferred sexual practices and consider changing their habits temporarily in a way that could work for their lifestyle. They also called on doctors to discuss sex with their patients more openly to help them navigate the unprecedented situation.
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