Sex is a very important part of life and, as the COVID-19 pandemic continues, we all need to find ways to balance our need for sex and intimacy with the risks of the spread of COVID-19. As there are increasing concerns about a ‘second wave’ of COVID-19 your best sexual partner during the pandemic is you or someone you live with. Having said that, there are ways to make your sex as safe as possible.

As with returning to the workplace, going food shopping or getting a long-awaited haircut, our ‘new normal’ involves following government advice, being aware of the COVID-19 risk to ourselves and others and making decisions based on that – and the same applies to sex. The following information is designed to help you make informed decisions to reduce the risk to yourself, your partners and your community and not to put you off!

Important COVID-19 facts

COVID-19 spreads through virus particles in saliva, mucus or the breath of those who have it. It can also be spread through contact with hard surfaces that someone else who has the virus has touched. COVID-19 can be caught from people who have the virus but do not have symptoms, which means that having sex with someone who doesn’t have COVID-19 symptoms is not a guarantee that you won’t get it.

The virus has been found in semen and faeces (poo), but it doesn’t appear that sex is a common way for COVID-19 to spread. However, because of its presence in semen and faeces, blow jobs and rimming may present an increased risk of infection and, obviously, physical contact during sex increases the risk of COVID-19.

You are your best sex partner

Masturbation, using sex toys and phone or cam sex are the safest options as they can be done without being in close proximity to anyone else. Just make sure that if you’re having cam sex you don’t share images that might identify you, unless you want to, and that you aren’t pressured into anything that makes you feel uncomfortable.

The next safest option is consensual sex with a sexual partner within your household.

If you do make the decision to have sex with someone outside of your household, it’s sensible to limit the number to one partner or as few partners as possible and take other precautions to reduce the risk of COVID-19.

COVID-19 and sex

If you are having sex with someone new, it’s important to talk to them about COVID-19 and manage the risk together. Ask them if they have any COVID-19 symptoms or had any in the previous two weeks and the same for anyone in their household. Key symptoms include fever, cough, shortness of breath and loss of sense of smell or taste.

It is also worth asking if they or anyone in their household have tested positive for COVID-19. People who test positive are now advised to isolate for at least 10 days from the first day they experienced symptoms.

If you or your partner are feeling unwell, don’t have sex. If you have any COVID-19 symptoms, it’s important to isolate and get tested. There is no proof that having previously had COVID-19 protects you against getting the infection again.

If you have symptoms of COVID-19 you can order a test.

Sex tips

You can reduce your risk of catching or passing on COVID-19 by sticking with a regular partner or limiting the number of sexual partners. Not kissing, wearing a face mask during sex and favouring positions where you’re not face-to-face may also help and using condoms or dams for blow jobs and rimming will further reduce the risk.

Washing your hands for more than 20 seconds (or using hand sanitiser) before and after sex will also reduce the risk. While the pandemic continues and, certainly, if we see a ‘second wave’ we will continue to review our advice about making your sex as safe as possible.

Sexual health

When you are having sex, don’t focus solely on COVID-19 and forget about your sexual health!

We would strongly recommend getting tested for sexually transmitted infections (including HIV) before starting to have sex again – even if you don’t have any symptoms. Lockdown has meant that most people have had fewer sexual partners, if any at all, and now is the perfect time to be sure you don’t have an STI and to know what your HIV status is.

Sexual health clinics are open but have changed how they work and are doing more things ‘virtually’ to reduce the number of face-to-face appointments and to ensure social distancing if you do need to go into clinic. You should check the website of your local clinic or give them a call to find out how to get tested. The majority of UK clinics are now offering postal tests that you can do yourself at home to make testing quick, convenient and safe.

It’s is also important to think about what you’re doing to prevent unplanned pregnancy and STIs, including HIV. Contact your local clinic or GP to ask about how to access contraception and make sure you have access to condoms and lube or have restarted PrEP if you stopped it during lockdown. Find out more about PrEP and COVID-19.

If you need emergency contraception or post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP) following a possible HIV exposure, sexual health clinics and A&Es remain open with additional COVID-19 safety measures in place.

Enjoy yourself

Thank you for taking the time to read this and for thinking about managing the risk around sex and COVID-19. Now you have the key information, you can decide what does and doesn’t work for you. Once you’ve made the decision to have sex, try to relax and enjoy it. Sex should be enjoyable and is an important part of life that many people have been deprived of during lockdown.