Earlier this month, my friend Jane was preparing to celebrate her 21st birthday. She was excited about her expensive and extravagant celebration plans but, she was most excited about seeing her long-distance boyfriend after two months of being apart. Two days before her big night, the Governor of her home state Texas issued an executive order, shutting down all offices and businesses, including the restaurant she had birthday reservations at. Luckily for her, her boyfriend had flown in early so she wasn’t stuck quarantining alone.
That evening she gave me a call. “I have a question and I need your opinion,” she said. “You know, from a public health point of view.” I had been answering all sorts of pandemic questions using my public health educational background, but I was nowhere prepared for this question. “Can I have sex in a pandemic?”
This question might seem frivolous, almost inconsiderate, in a time like this, but it turns out many have had this thought cross their mind already. Dating apps Tinder and Bumble have both seen surges in app usage, showing that people have relationships and intimacy on their minds now more than ever.
So whether you’re in a new relationship, trying to get pregnant or would just like a fun dopamine-releasing activity to get you through these less-than-ideal circumstances, your questions are more than valid. That being said, can you actually have sex during this pandemic?
Short answer? Yes. The virus hasn’t been found to transmit via sexual intercourse. Long answer? It depends on multiple factors like who, when, and where you are planning on doing the deed. Following public health and government guidelines, you should only be leaving your home for essential services and sex, unfortunately, isn’t one of them.
That being said, if you do want to have sex, it would have to be in your chosen quarantine space with your fellow quarantine mate(s). This means it’s probably not a good time for first dates or hookups. You have no way of knowing what the other person might have been exposed to, plus with everywhere being closed, your first date options are pretty limited.
If like Jane, you have an established partner who is living with you during this time, by all means, have your fun. However, if you don’t have an established partner, or they are not quarantining with you, remember that you are, as the NYC health department put it, “your safest partner.” If you need a little more encouragement other than your imagination, some porn sites are reportedly offering free premium access to their video catalogs. Oh, what a time to be alive!
If you do have a partner but they don’t live with you, welcome to the reality of every long-distance relationship ever. Much like them, now would be a good time to practice your sexting and cybersex skills. Dating apps like The League and Plenty of fish have even rolled out a new video chat feature on their app, offering new potential partners a new way to connect. Throw some Doja Cat music in the background and have fun with it. But, it goes without saying that if either one of you, online or in-person, is having symptoms, feeling sick, or just not up to it, hold off. Consent is still first and foremost priority, even if fingers are typing rather than tantalizing.
Now here’s where things get a little tricky. Even though COVID-19 hasn’t been found in vaginal fluid or semen, it has been found in saliva and fecal matter. So there is still a chance of getting infected if either you or your partner are already infected whether you’re showing symptoms or not. That being said, you should take precautions with oral or anal sex.
There’re also concerns about whether you’d even be able to get in on in the first place. Following the 2008 Wenchuan earthquake in China, a study on sexual and reproductive health found a decrease in desire for intimacy and widespread sexual dysfunction (an inability to engage in sexual activity, even when desired) in survivors following the earthquake. Although a causal pathway is difficult to establish, these study results and many others show that experiencing a depressing or traumatic event such as the current pandemic is associated with changes in sexual desire and functioning.
If the pandemic didn’t get you down and you have a present partner ready to go, don’t let these unusual circumstances stop you from having your fun. As a friendly reminder, STDs do not practice social distancing so remember to use a condom. Or a dental dam. Or the several contraception options available to you (seriously there’s a whole bunch of them). And finally, if you aren’t trying to get pregnant and you have zero intentions of having corona babies nine months from now, two words — birth control.
This piece was written for the class Alternative Journalism, which is taught by Kelley Crawford at Tulane University. The ongoing series, “Coping with Corona” is a live curriculum project where students investigate and report on the missed angles of Coronavirus coverage.