COVID-19 and Sexual Health
COVID-19 and Sexual Health
While there is still a lot we do not know about COVID-19 and specific risks associated with sexual activity, we do know that there is a risk of contracting COVID-19 if you are in close physical proximity (around 6 feet or less) with someone who is infected (1). COVID-19 can be spread through respiratory droplets produced when an infected person talks, sneezes, coughs, or breathes out, even if the infected person is not showing symptoms (1). COVID-19 can also be spread through contact with saliva and mucus (2). Intimate or sexual activities that involve close physical proximity, physical contact, or contact with saliva (like kissing) have the potential to spread COVID-19 (2).
COVID-19 virus has been detected in samples of feces and semen, though scientists are unsure whether COVID-19 can be spread through contact with feces, semen, or other bodily fluids (3). To reduce risk of COVID-19 as well as STIs, it is recommended that individuals use barrier methods like condoms and oral dams during sexual acts (2).
The bottom line is this: the best way to prevent COVID-19 transmission is to avoid close contact with others, including kissing and sex. At this time, masturbating alone with clean hands and sex toys (if desired) is the safest way to prevent the spread of COVID-19 (2,4). Besides yourself, likely your next safest sex partner is a consenting partner that you live with, if no one has had a positive COVID-19 test result, COVID-19 symptoms, or exposure to an infected person in the past 14 days (4).
If you are choosing to have sex with others or in close physical proximity to others, there are steps you can take to lower the risk of COVID-19 transmission. We recommend checking out the resources highlighted below for more information and suggested strategies.
Remember that if you choose to participate in sexual acts with others, you and your partner(s) must ask for and receive affirmative consent before initiating sexual activity. If your partner(s) do not want to have sex, their decision should be respected. To learn more about affirmative consent, check out OPEN’s resources on consent and communication. If you are experiencing sexual violence or domestic/partner violence, know that you are not alone and help is available.
Many organizations and public health agencies have published suggestions on ways to practice safer sex while managing one’s risk of COVID-19 infection and transmission. Check out the resources below to learn more about specific strategies to keep yourself and your partner(s) safer while having sex:
- New York City Health Department: Safer Sex and COVID-19
- Fenway Health: COVID-19 and Your Sexual Health
- Planned Parenthood: COVID-19 and Your Sexual Health
- This resource also has a section on distanced connection with partners that may be helpful for those looking to maintain intimacy while practicing physical distancing.
You can currently access sexual health supplies on campus during the grab and go sexual health pop-up events! See top of page for upcoming events information and information.
Boundaries are the limits we set for ourselves within relationships.
Different people have different needs and boundaries regarding social interaction during COVID-19. Some people may have pre-existing medical conditions that require them to be extra careful, others may be feeling anxious about what is happening, and others may be experiencing grief related to the loss of loved one because of COVID-19.
We recommend having a conversation with your partner (whether a long time partner, new dating or sexual partner etc.) to understand what their needs and limits are related to COVID-19. The decisions you personally make can significantly impact the health of your partner and their friends/family and vice versa. In the same way it’s important to talk about other boundaries and limits related to sex or dating, it’s important to talk about where you have different limits related to COVID and work to come to an agreement to ensure everyone feels safe and comfortable.
Tools for Expressing a Need/Boundary
- Set up a time to talk. Some students have shared that sending a text to set up a time or to let their partner know they what they want to talk about can help to hold them accountable to having the conversation.
- Have the conversation early on and when sober.
- Ask your partner about their boundaries and needs to get the conversation started.
Here is some example language for expressing a boundary:
- “I’d like to ______________ but not ___________________.” (eg. “Meet you, but only from a distance right now.”
- “It’s important to me to ________.” (eg. “Stay 6 feet apart”)
- “I’m not comfortable _________.” (eg. “With eating indoors at a restaurant together. Can we make sure to sit outside?”)
- “I know we’ve ______ a couple of times before, but _____.” (“had sex a few times before, but I’m worried about COVID. I want to talk more about the precautions we’re both taking.”
Topics to Reflect On/ Consider Discussing
- When was your most recent COVID test?
- Note: People can carry and spread the virus up to two days before they have symptoms and/or test positive, so a negative test does not mean someone is totally safe.
- Do you have other sexual partners right now?
- How many people do you regularly interact with? (live with, physically touch, or come within 6ft of for 15 minutes or more) Are any of those people high risk?
- What precautions are you taking related to COVID?
- What are you comfortable or not comfortable with in terms of locations and distancing? (Eg. Are you comfortable eating or drinking with others inside? Outside?)
- If you are doing online dating, how do you decide when to meet someone in person? What about at what point you become intimate, if at all?
- If you were to be physically intimate, where would that be?
- Note: it’s illegal to have sex in public spaces.
- On campus housing policy: During COVID-19, per Northeastern University and Massachusetts regulations and guidelines, there will be no guests, visitors, or additional occupants allowed in residential assigned bed spaces during this time; this includes neighbors within your residential building.
- What are the potential consequences of physical intimacy with this person?
- To what extent, does it put you or people you live with at risk for COVID?
- Does it violate Northeastern’s distancing policy and put you at risk for University discipline?
Consent and Communication
Whenever you are engaging in anything sexual with other people, it’s important to get consent beforehand and as the sexual activity changes. Consent is important for any sexual activity, whether the context is a casual hook-up or an ongoing relationship.
Visit our Consent page to find out what consent sounds like.
STIs can spread in a number of ways during sexual activity, and they are sometimes not symptomatic. It is important to get tested, and make sure your partner(s) have also been tested, to ensure your sexual health.
But asking your partner(s) if they have been tested can be a difficult conversation, so we have outlined some ways to broach the subject on our Sexual Health page.
It can also be difficult to talk to your partner(s) about your STIs. Here are some tips on how to get the conversation started.
When used correctly, barrier methods can prevent against STIs. Here is some information about using barrier methods and how to speak to your partner(s) about it.
Sexually transmitted infections (STIs)
Also called sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), STIs are infections that can spread during sex via contact with skin, semen, vaginal fluids, blood, and the anus. Depending on the STI, transmission can occur during sexual activity that exposes one person to another person’s skin, mouth, genitals, or anus.
Examples of STIs include chlamydia, gonorrhea, HIV/AIDS, herpes, hepatitis, human papillomavirus (HPV), syphilis, and trichomoniasis. Many people with STIs do not experience symptoms and might not know they have an STI.
STIs are common, with an estimated 50% of new infections occurring in people aged 15–24. When used properly during every sex act, barriers such as condoms and oral dams prevent the transmission of STIs like herpes, gonorrhea, chlamydia, syphilis, and HIV/AIDS. Click here for more reasons to get STI testing.
STIs are common and often asymptomatic. You can still contract an STI even if your partner(s) does not have symptoms. Left untreated, STIs can cause long-term health complications and make it more likely you will contract additional STIs.
All Northeastern students can receive STI testing at University of Health and Counseling Services (UHCS). To make an appointment for reproductive health or STI testing, call 617-373-2772, option #2.
Examples of reproductive health and STI exams include:
- Routine gynecological exams
- Pap test
- Contraceptive (birth control) counseling
- Testing and treatment for sexually transmitted infections
In addition, there are off-campus testing locations available in Boston. For STI testing sites, please see this list of sexual health resources.
For more information regarding STI testing, please see our list of sexual health resources.