Making Safer Sexual Health Choices During the Pandemic

two people wearing masks touching foreheads for sexual health

We’re facing the reality that COVID-19 isn’t going away anytime soon. And winter is coming.

When doing research for this piece, I kept coming across the advice to masturbate because it’s safer. And, while that’s true, we’re nearly a year into this pandemic … there comes a point when masturbation just doesn’t cut it anymore. 

Sex isn’t just about the release. It’s about connecting to someone. And it’s OK to need to connect to someone in this way.

If you’re reading this because you’re not sure whether it’s a good idea for you to start hooking up or sleeping with someone you’ve recently started dating, check out some of my earlier posts on:

But if you’ve listened to your gut and you know you’ve got to get laid, the rest of this piece is all about how to stay as safe as possible while doing just that.

Coronavirus and Sex

First, some groundwork about how the virus might be transmitted through sexual intimacy.

There is currently no evidence that the virus can be transmitted through semen or vaginal fluids, but the virus has been found in semen. The good news is that other coronaviruses are not easily spread through sex.

But the virus easily spreads through saliva, mucus, and exhaled air, so simply being in close contact and kissing are high-risk factors.

Sexual Health Resources During the Pandemic

The pandemic has dramatically impacted sexual health resources across the globe, including people’s ability to get tested or treated for STIs or get contraceptive prescriptions refilled.

It can be difficult to gain access to health care providers to get tested for a number of reasons: unemployment, limited childcare, limited hours and appointments. And many sexual health clinics have been redeployed during the pandemic.

But many clinics, including Planned Parenthood clinics, are offering telehealth services, and you may be able to get things like birth control or PrEP refilled without needing to come in. They’ll also send you at-home STI kits that are sent to you and you return via the mail.

Create Your Own Risk Profile

In general, any sort of emotional or physical intimacy contains risk. And it’s up to you to decide what people, activities, and levels of vulnerability are worth the payoff. You’re basically creating your own “risk profile.” 

Risk profiles are often talked about in BDSM communities, and I find it a helpful concept. One kinky blogger defines a risk profile as “a set of parameters that defines the end results in one’s life that—should they occur—would cost more than the opportunity play provides.”

You can create your own risk profile around dating, sex, emotional intimacy, BDSM, etc. For instance, you might be willing to sleep with someone after a first date, but only after having a talk about when you were both last tested for STIs, in agreement about contraceptive use, and when a friend knows where you are and when you’ll be home. 

Now, add COVID into the mix. There are new risks to consider: possible exposure to the virus, as well as exposing others. When considering what’s within your risk profile, of course you need to consider how to be responsible to others, as well. (This is the same consideration you should give about STIs, except with STIs we’re a little more knowledegable about how they are spread.)

In general, I think creating a risk profile is about balancing what’s best for you — physically, mentally, emotionally — with how to be responsible to others. We’ll come back to this balancing act. But knowing all of this, you can take informed risks and precautions.

Take Precautions

I found this list from Dr. William F. Marshall, III for the Mayo Clinic useful:

  • Minimize the number of sexual partners you have.
  • Avoid sex partners who have symptoms of COVID-19.
  • Avoid kissing.
  • Avoid sexual behaviors that have a risk of fecal-oral transmission or that involve semen or urine.
  • Use condoms and dental dams during oral and anal sex.
  • Wear a mask during sexual activity.
  • Wash your hands and shower before and after sexual activity.
  • Wash sex toys before and after using them.
  • Use soap or alcohol wipes to clean the area where you have sexual activity.

Some things I’d add:

  • Consider getting tested for COVID-19 before a date. 
  • Consider asking that your date gets tested as well.

Remember, once again, that you get to decide which precautions and actions are within your specific risk profile. For instance, is kissing after a second or third date worth the risk? What precautions can you take to make kissing safer?

Consent Includes Comfort Zones

When you’re deciding how to keep yourself and others safe while getting to know someone, dating, hooking up, etc … you’re creating your risk profile through defining your comfort zones. 

Own your own comfort zones and decisions. 

Don’t let others shame you for how you feel you need to take care of yourself. If you feel you need to go meet new people to stave off depression, then by all means do it! Just take precautions to do it responsibly. 

Don’t shame others.

Yes, people are not taking the pandemic seriously, and it’s infuriating. But there are also people who are shaming others’ decisions when it’s really not a black and white issue. This is really, really similar to STI-shaming and slut-shaming. And it’s stupid. 

Don’t allow others to pressure you into risks or activities you’re not comfortable with.

It’s OK to not be ready to be within six feet of someone, to touch, make out, etc. You’re in charge of what you feel comfortable doing.

Photo by Jasmin Chew on Unsplash


1 I like it
0 I don't like it

Jera Brown writes about being a queer kinky polyamorous Christian on their blog Their sex and relationship advice column, Just the Tip, is hosted by Rebellious Magazine. Follow them on Twitter or Instagram @thejerabrown.