Sex and coronavirus (COVID-19)

Sex and Coronavirus (COVID-19)

COVID-19 is a new illness that can affect your lungs and airways. It’s caused by a virus called coronavirus.  COVID-19 is highly contagious and as such has had a dramatic effect on our day to day lives.

 

To help stop the spread of coronavirus everyone has been asked to  follow the health advice on hse.ie. 

 

While there is no evidence that COVID-19 can be sexually transmitted, it can be passed on through close contact with someone who has the virus.

 

Remember, proper hand washing, respiratory hygiene and physical distancing are even more important as coronavirus restrictions are eased. Don’t ignore or delay seeking medical advice if you have symptoms. Phone your GP or out-of-hours services for a free coronavirus consultation. They will refer you for a COVID-19 test if needed. The coronavirus consultation and test is free if you are an Irish or Non-Irish National and not registered with a local GP. If you are feeling very unwell, phone 112 or 999.

 

Sex is a vital part of our lives and recognised as an important part of maintaining mental and physical health. Stopping or adjusting your regular sexual patterns may be challenging and problematic. The following guidelines have been created to help you to make changes to reduce your risk of getting COVID-19.

 

You can also view these guidelines in French, Spanish and Portuguese.

When to consider avoiding sex
  • Avoid sexual activity and especially kissing if you or your partner has symptoms of coronavirus, such as fever, cough, shortness of breath or loss of smell or taste. Anyone with common symptoms of coronavirus should self-isolate and phone their GP or out-of-hours services straight away to get a coronavirus test.
  • If you have been identified as a close contact of a confirmed case of COVID-19, you will need to restrict your movements for 14 days after your last contact with the person who has COVID-19 and you will be referred for testing, even if you have no symptoms.
  • It’s important to be particularly careful if you or your sexual partner has an underlying medical condition, as you are more likely to become very ill if you get coronavirus. These include lung disease, heart disease, diabetes, cancer, obesity, or a weakened immune system. Find out more about at-risk groups.
Reducing the risk of coronavirus during sex

You may not know if someone has coronavirus. Being sexually active with another person involves some risk of getting the virus. You can reduce this risk by following the advice below.

  • Only be sexually active with a partner living in your household.
  • If you decide to be sexually active with someone living outside of your household, limit it to as few partners as possible, preferably one regular partner.
  • Remember close sexual contact with anyone you are not living with can put you and others at risk of coronavirus. 
  • Wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water for at least 20 seconds before sexual activity.
  • Large gatherings of any type are not safe during COVID-19. Close contact with multiple people should be avoided. But, if you decide to find a crowd, here are tips to reduce your risk of spreading or getting COVID-19:
    • Limit the size of your guest list. Keep it intimate.
    • Go with a consistent sex partner.
    • Pick larger, more open, and well-ventilated spaces.
    • Wear a face covering, avoid kissing, and do not touch your eyes, nose, or mouth with unwashed hands.
    • Bring an alcohol-based hand sanitiser.
  • Be creative with sexual positions and physical barriers, like ‘glory hole’ walls, that allow sexual contact while preventing close face-to-face contact.
  • Consider non face-to-face quickies. The longer (more than 15 minutes) you are in close contact with someone else the more chances of passing or getting COVID-19.
  • Taking a break from physical and face-to-face interactions is worth considering, especially if you usually meet your sex partners online, by outdoor cruising or if you make a living by having sex. Consider using video dates, sexting or chat rooms. Make sure to disinfect keyboards and touch screens that you share with others. Before deciding to engage in online sexual activity including sexting, consider the possible risks. There are a number of safety issues you should think through in advance. For a guide to safe sexting, check out https://spunout.ie/life/article/sexting  and these 5 ways to increase your safety on dating apps from GCN.
Safer Sex Practices

As well as protecting yourself from coronavirus, it is important to take the usual safer sex precautions to protect from  STIs and HIV.

  • Always use a condom. Condoms give the best protection against STIs and are 98% effective when you use them correctly and every time you have sex.
  • Use condoms to reduce contact with saliva or faeces, especially during oral or anal sex.
  • Avoid rimming (mouth on anus) as it might spread coronavirus.
  • If you are fisting or using sex toys, wash your hands and the sex toys with soap and water for 20 seconds before and after. Wear a fisting glove if possible.
  • Wear a face covering or mask. During COVID-19 wearing a face covering over your nose and mouth is a good way to add a layer of protection during sex. Heavy breathing and panting can spread the virus further, and if you or your sex partner have COVID-19 and don’t know it, a face covering can help prevent spreading the virus.
  • PrEP (pre-exposure prophylaxis) is medication that can help prevent HIV transmission if you are HIV negative and at substantial risk of acquiring HIV.
  • PEP (post exposure prophylaxis) — If you have been recently exposed to HIV, PEP is a course of HIV medication that can help to prevent HIV infection. This is available through public STI clinics and in Emergency Departments. 

Sexual consent

  • Sexual activity should only ever be between consenting adults who have the legal capacity to make the decision.
  • The legal age of sexual consent in Ireland is 17. Consent to sexual activity requires communication to make sure you and your partner understand each other and are in agreement about the sexual act.
  • Even if you consent to a sexual act, you can change your mind before the act begins or at any time before it ends.

Read more about consent here.

Sexual Health Services during the Covid-19 Outbreak

STI Services

Many public STI services are at limited capacity and others are not currently providing services due to Covid-19. Contact your local STI clinic or GP to check their testing service availability. Find out more about these restrictions.

Remember:

  •  Using condoms correctly and every time you have sex reduces your risk of an STI.
  • Condoms, pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) and being on effective treatment for HIV and having an undetectable viral load, all help prevent HIV transmission.
  • PEP is still available during these restrictions. If you have had a recent exposure to HIV, it is important to take urgent action. Contact your nearest Hospital Emergency Department where PEP is available or contact your local sexual health clinic. This should be done within 72 hours of sexual contact

There is no evidence to suggest that people on PrEP or HIV treatment have additional protection against Covid-19.

Other Resources

This information was adapted from the information on the HSE Sex and Coronavirus (COVID-19) website page and the NYC Safer Sex and Covid guidance. This page was last updated on 18 August 2020 and is subject to change depending on evolving restrictions and evidence linked to coronavirus.

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