COVID-19 isn’t an STD. But you can get it if you have close physical contact with someone who has COVID-19. Luckily, the COVID-19 vaccine can help protect you and your partners from COVID-19. And there are plenty of ways to connect with people while you’re social distancing.
Can you get COVID-19 from sex?
You can get COVID-19 if you’re within 6 feet of someone who has it when they cough, sneeze, or breathe out. And COVID-19 is also spread through direct contact with saliva (spit) or mucus. So intimate activities that involve being physically close to someone, or coming into contact with their spit — like kissing — can easily spread COVID-19.
COVID-19 may also spread through feces (poop). So it may be possible to get COVID-19 from sexual activities that could expose you to fecal matter, including unprotected oral sex on an anus, or putting a penis or sex toy in your mouth after it’s been in someone’s anus.
Scientists have found COVID-19 in semen (cum), but they don’t know yet if it can spread from one person to another through semen. There’s no evidence so far that the virus is in vaginal fluids. Either way, it’s always a good idea to use barriers like condoms, to help protect you and your partner from infections that can definitely spread through sex.
Some people with COVID-19 might not have symptoms, or their symptoms may be mild. So you can’t know for sure if someone has COVID-19 based on how they look or feel.
How can I safely have sex during the COVID-19 pandemic?
The best way to prevent COVID-19 is to get the COVID-19 vaccine. If you’re fully vaccinated, it’s mostly safe for you to have sex and other types of close physical contact with other people who are also vaccinated. If you’re not vaccinated, try to avoid close, physical contact — including sex — with people who don’t live with you (especially if they’re also unvaccinated).
A new form of the COVID-19 virus — called the Delta variant — causes more infections and spreads faster than early forms of COVID-19. It’s rare for fully vaccinated people to get COVID-19 (including the Delta variant), and when they do the infection is usually mild. But if fully vaccinated people do get infected with the Delta variant, they can still spread it to others. And people with certain medical conditions (like a weakened immune system) might not have as much protection, even if they’re fully vaccinated.
There are a few situations where you may need to take extra precautions — like avoiding close, physical contact and wearing masks around others indoors — even if you’re vaccinated:
Talk with your nurse or doctor if you, your partner, or someone in your household is at higher risk for severe illness from COVID-19.
If you or your partner are feeling sick or think you may have been exposed to COVID-19, get tested for COVID-19. And you may have to quarantine or isolate, depending on the situation.
The safest person to have sex with is yourself: masturbation doesn’t spread COVID-19, or any other infections. Just make sure to wash your hands and sex toys with soap and water for at least 20 seconds before and after. The safest sexual partners are people who already live with you, or people who are fully vaccinated against COVID-19.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, you still need to ask for consent every time you want to have any kind of sex. Even if you’ve had sex before, and even if you’re in a relationship, live together, or are married. If your partner doesn’t want to have sex for any reason — including being worried about COVID-19 — it’s important to respect that.
Dental dams and condoms may help prevent the spread of COVID-19 during oral sex by preventing contact with spit. And using condoms during vaginal and anal sex may help prevent the spread of COVID-19 through things like poop and semen, if it turns out the virus can be spread that way (but scientists still don’t know if it can). It’s important to wash your hands with soap and water for 20 seconds before and after you have sex. You and your partner can also wear masks.
How do I protect myself from STDs and unintended pregnancy during the pandemic?
Sex can be a great way to build a connection with your partner and reduce stress and anxiety, which can be especially helpful in a pandemic. But it’s important to make sure you’re still taking steps to prevent STDs and unintended pregnancy, along with COVID-19.
Accidents happen. If you make a birth control mistake, you can use the morning-after pill (AKA emergency contraception) to help prevent pregnancy after unprotected sex. You can buy the morning-after pill at pharmacies, drugstores, and online without having to go to a doctor’s office or health center. Because emergency contraception works better the sooner you take it after unprotected sex, it’s a good idea to buy it ahead of time and keep it at home, so you can take it as soon as possible if you need it. Read more about getting sexual health services during the pandemic.
You can get birth control, emergency contraception, STD testing, and other sexual health services at your local Planned Parenthood health center. Many Planned Parenthood affiliates are offering health care services remotely through telehealth. Call your local Planned Parenthood health center for more information.
How can I connect with my partner while I’m social distancing?
Social distancing — which means staying at home as much as possible, and staying at least 6 feet away from other people when you do leave the house — is needed during this pandemic. Keeping yourself and your community healthy may mean making some changes to sex and relationships at this time, and that can be frustrating or lonely. But it doesn’t mean you can’t connect with partners in other ways. There are still things you can do to be intimate and stay safe, alone or with a partner:
Masturbation is the safest kind of sex there is — there’s no risk of unintended pregnancy or STDs, and no risk of spreading COVID-19. Masturbation can also help you relax if you’re feeling anxious or stressed out. Just make sure you wash your hands and sex toys with soap and water for 20 seconds before and after.
If you’re away from your partner, you can connect by doing things like making playlists of your favorite sexy songs, reading the same romantic or sexy story (or writing your own!), and sending letters or postcards to each other.
Put on your favorite outfit, glam yourself up, and do a photoshoot.
If you’re dating, you can go on a virtual date — watch a movie together over video, play a video game or virtual board game, video chat over coffee or a meal, or listen to an album or playlist together.
How can I stay safe during the COVID-19 pandemic if I’m in an abusive relationship?
Social distancing or isolation at home can help protect you from COVID-19. But for some people it may lead to relationship abuse, sexual violence, or reproductive coercion (when a partner pressures you to have sex or messes with your birth control to cause a pregnancy). Any form of relationship or sexual abuse is not OK, and you don’t deserve to be treated that way. You deserve respect and support.
If you or someone you know is in an abusive relationship, help is available. The National Domestic Violence Hotline offers virtual support online and over the phone.