Safe sex and sexual distancing during the COVID-19 pandemic


Let’s be clear — COVID-19 is not a sexually transmitted infectious disease. You cannot contract it from sperm or vaginal fluids. You can contract it from respiratory fluids that you would be likely to exchange if you are in close enough proximity to be having a sexual encounter.

So technically, I would say that you can’t get it from having sex but you can get it by having sex. Clear? Sex with housemates If you are considering having sex with someone you are self-distancing with, you are likely already exchanging respiratory germs from talking, laughing, sneezing, coughing or from touching surfaces you share like faucets, counter tops, and doorknobs. Adding sex to your sequestered activities will not likely increase your risk very much if one of your housemates turns out to have COVID-19.

Of course, this depends on how well-sequestered you all are. If one of your 4 roommates keeps sneaking off to visit a friend who lives with 3 roommates, one of whom keeps sneaking off to visit a friend, well then you are not well-sequestered. In this scenario, sex is not the problem. Sex with new contacts Until widespread testing for coronavirus is available, we won’t know who is and isn’t infected, even if they are asymptomatic (without symptoms). If you are contemplating having sex, or you already had sex with someone new, you need to know the same information about them as you would for someone joining your non-sexual contacts:

1. Do they have any symptoms of COVID-19 (especially fever, cough, shortness of breath)? Personally, I don’t think this question is very helpful. Remember that most infected people do not have any symptoms at first. Just because they don’t have any symptoms today, doesn’t mean they aren’t infected and infectious.


  • a. If they do have symptoms, stay in touch with them over social media, especially if they live alone. Support them through their illness, deliver groceries or medicine to their doorstep, help them find a health care provider to call if their symptoms are worsening for advice on where to get testing or emergency services if needed.

  • b. If they don’t have symptoms, go to question 2.

2. Have they been practicing diligent social distancing? Have they been alone or only been in contact with others within their own household (who have only been in contact with others within their own household) for the past 14 days? (Comment from my editor: Do you believe them? Remember, some people will say anything to get laid. 😊).


  • a. If they have not been strict about social distancing, the best thing to do is to assume they might be infected. Keep in touch over social media for 14 days.


  • b. If they’ve been strictly quarantined for 14 days, and so have you, and you both remain asymptomatic, you are good to go. You can feel safe to bring them into your safe zone and sequester together. (If there are other people in your safe house, make sure you get everyone to agree on the new addition.)

NOTE: If you and your new partner successfully sequester together for 14 days, I’d say you have the makings of beautiful new relationship! Safe sex Since we are talking about safe sex, let’s not forget about the other epidemic ravaging the U.S. and other countries as well. There are more new cases of sexually transmitted infectious diseases right now than there will probably ever be cases of COVID-19. CDC estimates that there are about 20 million new cases of STDs every year in the U.S! [1]

And some of them can kill you.

If you are contemplating having sex, or you already had sex, with someone new, you need to have similar information about them as you would for someone who might have COVID-19:


  1. At the start of a relationship, I recognize that it would be awkward to ask them if they have any symptoms of an STD (abnormal genital discharge, pain with sex or urination). Personally, I don’t think this question is very helpful. Remember that most infected people do not have any symptoms. Just because they don’t have any symptoms today, doesn’t mean they aren’t infected and infectious.

  2. A better way to approach it might be by asking, have they had genital or oral sexual intercourse with anyone since the last time they were tested for STDs? The only good answer is “no.” Of course, it’s only fair that you answer the question too. If their answer or your answer is ‘yes,’ STD testing is recommended. If you both answer ‘yes,’ why not go get tested together?


Reproductive health centers are essential medical services and most clinics are trying to stay open during the pandemic. Go to Planned Parenthood Direct (www.plannedparenthooddirect.org) or other similar reproductive health service for help finding an STD clinic in your area.


In the meantime, take precautions: practice abstinence, don’t have genital-to-genital or oral-to-genital sex until you’re tested (there are now more new cases of throat cancer than new cases of cervical cancer) and don’t let alcohol or drugs impair your decision-making.


After you’re tested, practice mutual monogamy. If that’s not for you, practice ‘sexual distancing.’ This means that if you are having sex with two people and both of your partners are having sex with two people (one of whom is you), that’s five people in your mutual polyamory circle. All five should have tested negative and be trustworthy. Any sexual activity outside of this quintet breaks the seal. (Apply this reasoning to whatever the number of involved people is.) While this may be hard to manage in real life, it works well if you can swing it.


Also, be sure that when you get tested, you are being screened for everything. For example, some routine screening does not include testing for herpes or bacterial vaginosis. It’s simple. Just ask what is covered by the test and what is not. I’d still recommend condoms for any sexual coupling outside of monogamy. Consider condoms to be your face masks for preventing STDs.


Finally, experts anticipate another baby boom after life gets back to normal following the pandemic. So, don’t forget the birth control when you are at the clinic for STD testing!


[1] Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Incidence, prevalence, and cost of sexually transmitted infections in the United States. February 2013. https://www.cdc.go/std/stats/STI-Estimates-Fact-Sheet-Feb-2013.pdf

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