We’re going to need to think differently about safer sex for some time. Thanks COVID-19. So this is a guide to how to have safer sex from this coronavirus as well as the other things we usually need to think about.
This one is mostly for all you allosexuals out there but also applies to asexual folk who really want some contact too.
Here’s the shorter instagram version if you like that kind of thing
Calculating risks and why it’s hard
Before you read on remember that I’m not a doctor. I’m a sex educator who’s trying to learn from the advice we’ve been given by governments and WHO. We’ve only known about this particular virus for a few months and scientists are learning about it all the time. The key facts that I am basing this article on are from the World Health Organisation here. If anything changes I’ll update it.
Everyone’s view of risk is determined by their own view of the risks and the rewards of sex. Not having any physical contact is going to be extremely difficult for some people, for others it’s going to be less of a problem or not even a problem at all. So try to be kind and have some empathy for what people are going through when they are working this out.
Remember I’m writing this for a UK audience — flippin ‘eck, it’s a turn up for the books, hanky panky etc. However, most of this will be relevant for you around the world too.
We’ll start with the safest first
Yes solo sex is sex, as I’ve been saying over and over and over again here. Having sex by yourself can be just as pleasurable and in many ways a lot more pleasurable than having sex with someone else. It might be especially more pleasurable at this time because of all the stress of the virus and other people generally.
So this is a good opportunity to get down to some serious solo sex. I’ve written quite a bit about how to enjoy solo sex more and I’ll write some more about this in the next few weeks.
Note. A lot of people might lick their fingers to make them wet before touching themselves. During the outbreak you may want to stop doing that, because a common way for people to get COVID-19 is from their fingers touching their mouth, nose, eyes and face generally. So it’s a good idea to wash your hands thoroughly before you start (in case you touch your face) and to use a lubricant.
Read about lubricant
You can fantasise about something, or someone, and/or you can watch a sexy scene on the internet. If you are over 18, have money, and you like looking at porn actors, now would be a very good time to pay for your porn. Join their websites, or their only fans, or see if they have a wishlist or donation button.
If you’re ace you could also find way to do solo cuddles. Pillows, duvets, cushions, fluffy hot water bottles, teddys might not be as great as someone coming around to be your small spoon, but at least they won’t drool on your pillow.
Here are loads of masturbation articles. No thank you.
Cyber or phone sex
From a medical perspective, cyber sex or phone sex is very very safe because you aren’t in the same room together. Again I’ve written about sexting and how to do it. It can be flippin amazing if you do it right, and by right I mean consensually. I’ll probably write some more about this too at some point.
There are some non-medical risks to cyber sex too. Remember that (technically) it’s illegal to take, send, or receive, sexy pics of someone under 18, even if you and they are under 18. It’s unlikely that you will be prosecuted for this (more about this here) but it is a small risk.
There’s also the risk that the person you are having sex with is recording you without your knowledge, or sharing your pics or words with others. So only do this with people if you feel like you have a good level of trust with.
Please, if you can, do this instead of attempting to meet up with someone for sexy times in person.
Read this about Freedoms and Covid and why it’s consensual to wear a mask. Also if you’re stressed about COVID I’ve got some advice about how to deal with it yourself and how to help others through it.
In person sex / touching
Right here’s the complicated bit.
COVID-19 can be passed on through kissing. Your mouths/noses/faces are in close contact when you snog, and that can pass on the virus. So you definitely might want to avoid snogging if you are at risk of getting seriously ill from this coronavirus.
For STIs kissing is pretty safe, but for COVID-19, it’s not safe (it’s also never been safe for colds, flu, or tonsilitis either). COVID-19 can also be passed on by coughing near people, or coughing onto a surface which someone else touches with their hand, and they then touch their face (particularly eyes, nose, mouth).
Remember if you have symptoms (a higher temperature and a new persistent cough), isolate yourself from others. Here are the symptoms at the NHS website but it’s also thought that symptoms of a cold are also now symptoms of Covid.
So because you can pass COVID-19 on from kissing and coughing, it’s not just you you have to think about. You are not just putting yourselves at risk but everyone else you both come into contact with.
It’s okay to see others now
For the time being (in the UK) it’s okay to date and see others for sex. But to be good at safer and consensual sex it’s good to think about covid and bubbles.
We can have the virus without knowing. It’s thought that around a third of people who have covid don’t know they have it. If we snog someone, or even touch them with our hands, we risk passing the virus to them who can pass the virus to someone else. It might not make you ill, but it could make someone else seriously ill. Eventually that virus is going to find someone who might get very ill or even die.
So now is the time to be honest and open with everyone and to talk about this. Everyone who is potentially directly affected by you going round to theirs would need to be okay with you going round to theirs. You might consent to sharing germs with each other, but everyone else can’t.
Lowering the risk of in person sex
If after all this you do want to have in person sex, and if you do live with your sex partner, here’s how to lower the risks. The first thing to do is to wash your hands. It’s so important. Washing your hands properly for at least 20 seconds, breaks the structure of the virus and washes it off your hands. So if you do accidentally touch your face, or theirs you are reducing the risk of transmission a lot. We should do that anyway tbh.
Read more about how to talk about safer sex
You could also even have a bath or a shower beforehand and you could ‘incorporate this into your love making’ if you wanted to. (Sorry that phrase made me a little bit sick in the back of my mouth.)
Get a test before
You can also get a lateral flow test (which are free in the UK, you can get them here). If you both (or all) take a test just before sex then you can be reasonably confident that you aren’t going to give each other Covid. However, it’s not a guarantee you don’t have it. If you get a PCR test then you can be more confident.
Sexual activities you might want to avoid
If you both test negative just before sex then these things are going to be much less risky. However, if you are really worried about risks then you might want to avoid:
- Mouth to mouth kissing (because you are breathing directly into each other).
- Touching your mouth or their mouth or face (though washing your hands makes that safer).
- Any sex or cuddling position where your mouths are close to each other could be risky. Pleasurable sex can lead to a lot more deep exhalations of breath.
- Rimming (licking the anus, probably someone else’s.) Rimming is riskier because there’s some evidence that you can get COVID-19 from poo. For rimming it’s always been a good idea to use a barrier to make that safer. Read more about dams.
Sex you can do
There’s no evidence so far that COVID-19 can be passed on through semen, or any fluids coming from the vagina. So all you have to think about here are all the other safer sex risks (unplanned pregnancy and STIs).
Our wonderful sexual health services have adapted their services, so you can attend in person or book a virtual appointment. As responsible sexers we should also not put extra strain on the health service by getting chlamydia. If you can, please continue trying to make sex as safe as possible. That means using condoms, dams or having non-penetrative sex (with no snogging).
Here are some ideas for safer in person sex
- Masturbating together is pretty low risk.
- Masturbating yourselves next to each other is even lower risk.
- Kissing them away from their mouth is pretty low risk (armpits, elbow, thighs etc).
- You could both wear masks.
- Oral sex on genitals appears to be as safe as it was before as far as we know (more on that here).
- Massaging, grinding, stroking, nibbling, touching.
- The use of any toys or kink implements (like cuffs, paddles) is pretty safe if you keep them and your hands away from your mouth. It’s always a good idea to wash your toys — follow the manufacturer’s guidelines on this.
We’re going to have to adjust to having different kinds of sex and to do our relationships differently. And if you are able to have safer sex, try to enjoy it as much as you can.
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© Justin Hancock, 2022
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Justin Hancock has been a trained sex and relationships educator since 1999. In that time he’s taught and given advice about sex and relationships with thousands of young people in person and millions online. He’s a member of the World Association for Sexual Health.