Safer sex during the Covid-19 pandemic

A guide to enjoying sex whilst reducing the risk of  infection

The ‘social distancing’ restrictions we have all got used to in recent months have been key to containing the virus.

We know that those restrictions have been difficult. Everyone has had to make sacrifices around who we can and cannot meet. Of course, this has affected many people’s sex lives and relationships.

From 5 November until at least the 2 December, London, like the rest of England, will go into a new lockdown. This means you should stay at home except for specific purposes and avoid meeting people you do not live with (unless they form part of your support bubble). During this time, many businesses and commercial venues will also be closed. You can view the guidance in full here.

These new restrictions obviously have implications for sex and relationships. Sex is an important part of human life and has many physical and emotional benefits. We’ve received queries on what is allowed,  what is safe and where to find additional information.

Top Tips

There is more to be discovered about Covid-19 and how it spreads, but this is what we know so far:

  • Covid-19 is highly contagious, and you can catch it from someone who is already infected.
  • The virus spreads mainly through airway droplets (sneezing, coughing or speaking) and through directly touching contaminated surfaces.
  • The virus can spread to people who are within 2 metres (6 feet) of an infected person who coughs or sneezes.
  • Covid-19 has already been found in faeces (poo) of people who are infected with the virus.
  • Some research has found Covid-19 in semen and vaginal fluids.
  • Not everyone who is infected will have symptoms, but they are still likely to be highly infectious. This is known as being asymptomatic.

Intimate contact with someone outside your household is against the regulations (this means that the rules do not allow sex with someone outside your household).
Government regulations should be followed, but if you do have sex with people outside your household, the following advice can reduce the risk of infection:

  • Yourself. You are your safest sexual partner – this applies for STIs as well as coronavirus. Masturbation (‘wanking’) can be a great release and will not spread Covid-19, just remember to wash your hands (and any sex toys) before and after.
  • Your partner/spouse/lover (if you live in the same home). Your next safest sexual partner is someone you live with if you are both feeling well (no recent potential exposure to Covid-19) and both consent to sex. This includes your ‘support bubble’ if you were eligible to form one – guidance can be found here.
  • Intimate contact with someone outside your household is not advised (this means that the regulations do not allow sex with someone outside your household).
    Government guidance should be followed, but if you do have sex with people outside your household, the following advice can reduce the risk of infection:

    • Discuss potential recent exposure to the virus before meeting up, or before having sex. Just like you would when discussing safer sex (such as HIV status, using PrEP and condoms), you should discuss if you or your partner have shown any symptoms of the virus in the last 14 days. A full list of symptoms can be viewed here. If they have, they should be self-isolating for 14 days and not interacting with anyone. Anyone showing symptoms should urgently arrange a free Covid-19 test through the NHS.
    • Fewer sexual partners; lower the risk. Sex with multiple partners or physical group sex is not safe in the current environment. Large gatherings where social distancing of 1m plus is not followed will increase the risk of Covid-19 infection.
      But if you do find yourself in this situation there are measures which might reduce the risk (a little):

      • Keep the numbers of sex partners low and only meet those you trust.
      • Wear a face mask and wash your hands frequently.
      • Ensure the location is open aired and well ventilated if possible.
      • Increase hand washing and other hygienic practices.
  • Do it online. There are a number of online solutions to physical sex such as video dating, phone sex, sexting, Zoom/Teams rooms or even app-controlled sex toys! These options pose no risk of Covid-19 infection from people on the other side of the screen – just remember to disinfect any shared phones, keyboards or computers. Please make sure that you only share intimate acts on video with those you trust – discuss what you feel comfortable filming and who it’s shared with before taking part.

Although there is little evidence of spreading Covid-19 during sex, the general closeness and sharing of bodily fluids will make transmission more likely. Here are some helpful tips to consider before having sex, to reduce the risk of infection during:

  • Kissing will pass on Covid-19 if the virus is present. You should avoid kissing anyone outside of your household – the exchange of saliva will transmit the virus.
  • Wear a face mask and wash your hands before and after sex.
  • Use a condom. Condoms are effective and can reduce contact with sperm (cum) and saliva (spit) especially during oral and anal sex.
  • Be careful during anal sex. This applies to rimming (mouth on anus), penetrative anal sex and anal toy play. Covid-19 is present in faeces (poo) and therefore these acts carry a risk of transmission. But you can reduce some of the risk by:
    • Using condoms or a dental dam to act as a barrier between the mouth and the bottom
    • Using lube
    • Washing thoroughly before and after (including toys)
  • Do not share sex toys and wash them before and after use (including personal use).
  • Experiment with…
    • your surroundings – explore creating a barrier between you and your partner which still allows sexual intimacy but prevents close contact
    • your positions – explore positions during sex where you’re facing away from each other. If you miss having eye contact, try using a mirror!

The risk of catching an STI, including HIV, is low if national guidance on social distancing is observed. After all, you cannot catch an STI if you are not having sexual contact with another person. For regular partners – whether those are friends, flatmates, lovers or spouses – it is worth having an HIV and STI test to ensure there are no infections that might be passed on without protection. You can order a self-sampling free online HIV and STI kit here.

If you are planning to have sex with someone outside of your household (or bubble) the risk of catching an STI (in addition to Covid-19) is increased and our advice about safer sex in other parts of this website should be followed. Don’t forget:

  • Consider wearing a condom and using lube – A condom is one of the most effective ways of protecting yourself from STIs including HIV (all gay and bisexual men in London can order a free home delivered Do It London condom and lube pack here.)
  • Consider using PrEP – For basic information on PrEP including its benefits in protecting against HIV and where to access it click here.
  • Having an undetectable viral load (U=U) means you cannot pass on HIV – to find out more about U=U click here.
  • Take an HIV test and be sure of your status – you can order online self-sampling HIV test here; they’re quick, easy and confidential
  • Use other forms of protection: For more information on the most effective methods of preventing HIV, click here.
  • Access sexual health care and treatment – if you need an STI test, you may not be able to attend a physical sexual health clinic due to Covid-19. If you have symptoms you should phone your local clinic and they will advise you on what to do; you can locate your local sexual health clinic here. Testing for an STI can also be completed at home – for details on how to order a home testing kit click here.

The latest UK Government guidance can be found here: https://www.gov.uk/coronavirus

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