COVID-19 isn’t an STD. But you can get it if you have close physical contact with someone who has COVID-19. Luckily, 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 try to avoid close, physical contact — including sex — with anyone who doesn’t live with you. 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. Right now, it’s best to try not to have close contact with anybody outside your home if you can. Staying away from as many people as possible will help protect you and others from 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.
Using condoms and dental dams will help protect you and your partners from STDs. Dental dams and condoms may also 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 also important to wash your hands with soap and water for 20 seconds before and after you have sex.
If you or your partner are feeling sick or think you may have COVID-19, don’t have sex, kiss, or be physically close to each other until you’re feeling better. Call a doctor for next steps, including how to help prevent the spread of COVID-19 in your own home.
You may want to totally avoid sex and other kinds of close contact if you or your partner have a medical condition that increases your risk of developing serious complications from COVID-19, like a chronic lung disease (including moderate to severe asthma), serious heart disease, or diabetes that’s not well controlled. This also includes people who are immunocompromised — like people undergoing cancer treatment or living with HIV that’s not well managed with medicine.
Being home all day every day with a sexual partner with extra free time might mean you’re having sex more often. This can be a great way to build a connection with your partner and reduce stress and anxiety. But it’s important to make sure you’re still taking steps to prevent STDs and unintended pregnancy, along with COVID-19.
If you can’t get your regular birth control method during the COVID-19 pandemic, use a method that you can buy over-the-counter, like condoms. (Condoms will help protect you and your partner from STDs, too.) You can also buy the morning-after pill (aka emergency contraception) 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 buy it ahead of time and keep it at home, so you can take it as soon as possible if you need it.
You may also be able to get birth control and other sexual health services at your local Planned Parenthood health center, and some 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.
Self isolation and social distancing are ways you can help keep yourself, your partners, and your community safe during this pandemic. It can be hard, but try to remember that it won’t last forever. And the more people practice social distancing now, the more lives will be saved and the sooner everyone can get back to normal.
How can I stay safe while staying at home if I’m in an abusive relationship?
Social distancing can help protect you from COVID-19. But for some, isolation at home 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.