Living during an international health crisis brings up unexpected quandaries: Should you Lysol your bean cans? Is air safe? Can you have sex during the coronavirus pandemic?
The unprecedented health crisis has, in a few short weeks, upended life as we know it. For Americans, it started as just a few disturbing headlines, which quickly turned into handwashing guidelines, which escalated into the proliferation of the phrase social distancing. Now 23 states as well as many additional towns and counties—covering about 6 in 10 Americans, the New York Times estimates—have instructed people not to leave their homes, except for solo exercise and absolute necessities. On Thursday, March 27, officials reported that the United States has the highest number of confirmed cases of COVID-19—the disease caused by this coronavirus—of any country.
Naturally, with all the time cooped up indoors, people are wondering, Can we still have sex? Well, let’s look at the facts:
Scientists know—and have told us repeatedly—that the coronavirus is spread mostly person-to-person, mostly through respiratory droplets. That means: The fine mist that surrounds you when a tall person sneezes, the cool spritz of your fellow subway rider’s cough, the tiny drop of your spit that accidentally, horrifically, lands on the chin of the person you’re talking to at a cocktail party, that you both heroically try to ignore. Even if you don’t have a cough—or even if you have one but you’re really good at covering it!—when humans come into contact, we get spit and snot on each other. We have a habit of breathing on each other. And sadly, this is how scientists believe coronavirus is spread.
“You should avoid close contact—including sex—with anyone outside your household,” the New York Health Department wrote in recently released guidelines. “Kissing can easily pass COVID-19.”
Listen. Nothing pains me more than reporting that health officials are warning people off sweaty, spitty, in-person sex—or anything, sexual or otherwise, that brings people within feet of each other. One day, sex gods willing, the number of COVID-19 cases will significantly abate, and people will consensually spit, lick, and sensually cough on each other once again. Face touching will be foreplay. Sloppy kissing will become tinged with a feeling of erotic risk. Until that time, insofar as sex traditionally involves a person being less than six feet away from you, it may have to wait.
But what if the person in question is your partner, who perhaps sleeps in your bed, shares your meals, and sits less than one sneeze-length away from you throughout your eight daily Zoom calls? Or what if they’re a roommate who’s been giving you confusing need-to-pee feelings and hasn’t been sick lately? Or what if you’re planning to break the six-feet rule and just need to know the safest way to do it? The New York Department of Health released an informative—and unintentionally, darkly funny—guideline on this topic.
“You are your safest sex partner. Masturbation will not spread COVID-19, especially if you wash your hands (and any sex toys) with soap and water for at least 20 seconds before and after sex,” the guideline reads.
So can you have sex during the coronavirus pandemic? Yes, the New York government enthusiastically says: with yourself. It’s also a splendid time to (safely!) get into that whole sexting thing the youths have been talking about.
If you do choose to have partnered sex, the Health Department adds, “The next safest partner is someone you live with. Having close contact—including sex—with only a small circle of people helps prevent spreading COVID-19.” (If you are having sex with “a small circle of people” during a pandemic, I don’t know what to tell you except congrats and stay as safe as you can.) The next best guidelines are to use a condom, always a good practice, but the New York Health Department notes that they’re a good extra step to avoid the spread of saliva and feces—and to scrub your hands before and after sex. If your partner is feeling even a little under the weather, take a rain (spit?) check.
Right now the world is divided into those who follow CDC recommendations and those who do not. Maybe it’s a good time to distrust those who do not. Or at least, time to invest in a fantastic vibrator.