Sex and COVID

UPDATED October 4, 2023


The COVID pandemic is still not over, so it is important to stay aware of how to protect yourself and your community. Wearing a mask along with access to testing, vaccines, and new treatments have made a huge difference in preventing new COVID infections and severe outcomes. While some people have no or just very minor symptoms and recover in several days, some can experience much more serious health problems which can last a long time (like long-COVID).

New variants of COVID continue to emerge, and no one knows what new, more infectious strains might emerge in the future

Here’s what’s important to remember in order to protect yourself and others:

  1. Get vaccinated and get booster shots. Schedule a vaccine or booster appointment at Vaccines are safe and very effective. Booster recommendations change often, but here is the most updated information from the CDC. Vaccines and boosters do not always protect you from infection, but they’re very effective in reducing symptoms, hospitalizations, and death as well as reducing the spread of the virus. Most people can still get a COVID-19 vaccine for free. For people with health insurance, most plans will cover COVID-19 vaccine at no cost to you. People who don’t have health insurance or with health plans that do not cover the cost can get a free vaccine from their local health centers; state, local, tribal, or territorial health department; and pharmacies participating in the Bridge Access Program.
  2. Get tested. Testing is particularly important if you have any symptoms, have been exposed to someone who has tested positive, or before and after you attend an event with a lot of people. Order free COVID tests and find local testing locations at Many pharmacies carry tests, and insurance companies may cover the cost. Make sure that you store your test properly, check the expiration date, and use the test correctly to ensure accurate results.
  3. You can reduce your chance of getting sick/spread COVID by wearing a mask when you’re out in public, especially when indoors with others. While many places no longer require them, they provide extra protection against COVID. The most effective masks are N-95 or KN-95 masks, which you can get at many drug stores and online. Cloth masks on their own do not provide as much protection. Find out how to update your masks here.
  4. Limiting your contact with others is also a good way to reduce your risk. When you need to go out, try to reduce the number of people you’re around, especially indoors. 
  5. If you test positive for COVID or have symptoms, go into isolation until you can get a PCR test. More recent COVID variants aren’t being detected by home rapid tests, so make sure to contact a health care provider to get a PCR test. Read this guide for more on starting and stopping isolation.
  6. If you test positive for COVID and are more likely to get very sick (especially if you’re immunocompromised, disabled, and/or older), treatments are available that can reduce your chances of hospitalization and death. Treatment must be started within a few days after you first develop symptoms to be effective. Find a location that offers testing and treatment or a pharmacy where you can fill your prescription.
  7. Don’t beat yourself up if you still get COVID. While vaccines, boosters, masks and reducing contact with others will significantly reduce risk, they don’t prevent COVID 100% of the time. By using some or all of those strategies, you’re still doing your part to protect yourself and others in your community. 
  8. If you currently have COVID or have symptoms of long-COVID, get help. Check out these support groups for more resources on how to deal with symptoms and other health issues related to COVID. According to the CDC, 1 in 5 people in the U.S. are living with long-COVID or other post COVID health issues.
  9. You can get COVID more than once and each new infection increases your chance of long-COVID. Keep masking, getting updated boosters, and following the below guidance to keep yourself safer.
  10. Stay updated on what COVID looks like in your community. Since home testing has gotten more popular, many cases of COVID don’t get reported to public health departments. This makes it harder to track the spread of COVID in a community and to let people know about outbreaks. Health departments have begun measuring the presence of COVID virus in wastewater (sewers and water systems), since people with COVID can shed the virus in their feces even if they don’t have symptoms. This can serve as an early warning that COVID-19 is spreading in a community. People’s CDC puts out a weekly report using wastewater data.

New information is coming in frequently, so we suggest going to the CDC’s website for the latest recommendations. We’ve faced a lot of challenges as a community. We can overcome this one as well.

Read the following info about having safer sex during the ongoing COVID pandemic.

  • You can get COVID from a person who has it, and especially by being physically close to that person.
  • The virus most commonly spreads in the air, even if someone doesn’t have symptoms. Most COVID cases are caused this way, which is called asymptomatic transmission. This is why masks and ventilation indoors are effective ways of preventing people from passing on COVID whether you feel well or not.
  • Getting vaccinated and boosted as well as wearing masks while being indoors and very close to others over longer periods of time are the most effective ways to prevent transmission. See this CDC guide for understanding your COVID exposure risk.

Have an honest conversation with your sex partners, housemates, sex work clients, and any other close contacts about any significant exposures they may have had.

  • People can be asymptomatic and still infectious.
  • Tell your partners if you get diagnosed with COVID.
    •  If you tested positive, tell your sex partners and housemates directly or by going to
  • Ask your close contacts questions!
    • Have they been vaccinated – and has it been more than two weeks since they were?
    • Have they had a booster shot?
    • Have they recently been diagnosed with COVID? People who have recovered from COVID for at least 10 days from the day their symptoms started are likely no longer infectious.
    • Have they been exposed to someone with COVID in the last 10 days?
    • Have they recently been tested?
    • Are they at high risk for complications from COVID?
    • Have they had any symptoms since their vaccine?

The best way to protect yourself from COVID is to get vaccinated and boosted. Making sure your partner is vaccinated is important too: that gives you both the most protection. To find a vaccine near you, go to or your state or local health department’s websites. 

You can still get COVID even if you’ve been vaccinated, but that doesn’t mean vaccines don’t work. Vaccines are very effective at keeping you from getting seriously ill. According to C.D.C. data, unvaccinated people are 4.5 times more likely to get COVID, and 11 times more likely to die from their infection than those who are vaccinated.

Many people who get reinfected have no symptoms, and when they do, the symptoms can be relatively minor. Some people, however, can experience a number of serious health complications, including “brain fog” and fatigue. This is referred to as long-COVID. Nearly one in five people in the U.S. who have had COVID developed long-COVID.

Unvaccinated and vaccinated people can both transmit COVID to others. People who have symptoms are more likely to transmit COVID than people who do not. 

If you’re severely immunocompromised, you should still get vaccinated. You may be eligible for EVUSHELD, a medicine given by a healthcare provider every six months to help prevent you from getting COVID. For more information, click here.

If you and your partner are both vaccinated, your risks of infecting each other are lower, but it’s still possible. To reduce your risk, here are some suggestions:

  • Use apps, videos, and texting to keep meeting peoplewithout meeting in person. You can even have an old-fashioned phone call.  Use this time to flirt or get to know someone better and meet in person later, particularly if stay-at-home or shelter-in-place orders are in effect where you live.
  • Have sex only with people close to you. You are your safest sex partner. Masturbation will not spread COVID-19, especially if you wash your hands (and any shared sex toys) with soap and water for at least 20 seconds before and after sex.
  • 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. The fewer people you’re physically close to, the better. 
  • If you do have sex with others outside your household, have as few partners as possible and pick partners you trust. 
  • If you decide to have sex outside of your circle of contacts or a hookup:
    • Closely monitor yourself for symptoms.
    • Consider getting tested for COVID-19 on a more frequent basis (monthly or within five to seven days before a hookup). Go online or call your health department or medical provider for information on where you can get tested.
    • Take extra precautions if you are a person at higher risk for severe illness or are having sex with someone who is. This can include people over 65 years of age or those with serious medical conditions. Medical conditions include lung disease, moderate to severe asthma, heart disease, diabetes, obesity, kidney disease, liver disease, cancer or a weakened immune system (for example, having unsuppressed HIV or a low CD4 count).
    • Wear a mask and wash your hands to minimize risk to others.
  • Have fewer partners. You and your partner can create an exclusive ‘bubble’ where you agree to only have sex with each other for the time being and stay in communication about your COVID-19 exposure.
  • It’s very hard to determine if everyone has been vaccinated in a group setting, including at sex parties or clubs. Ask your party organizer if they have rules about being vaccinated or tested for COVID, as well as Monkeypox vaccination requirements.
  • If you usually meet your sex partners online or make a living by having sex, consider taking a break from in-person dates. Video dates, sexting, subscription-based fan platforms, “Zoom parties” or chat rooms may be options for you.
  • If you usually meet your sex partners online or make a living by having sex, consider taking a break from in-person dates. Video dates, sexting, subscription-based fan platforms, “Zoom parties” or chat rooms may be options for you.
  • Have sex only with consenting partners. To learn more about consent, visit
  • Get tested regularly for STIs, and if you’re HIV-negative or don’t know, make sure you get tested for HIV as well. Go to for a directory of free test sites near you. In some states, you may be able to get a free test sent to your home by going to

Take care during sex, especially if you both aren’t vaccinated:

  • Kissing can easily spread COVID. Avoid kissing anyone who is not part of your small circle of close contacts; ideally, only kiss those in your household.
  • Rimming (mouth-to-anus contact) might spread COVID. Virus in feces may enter your mouth and could lead to infection.
    • Wear a face covering or mask. Maybe it’s your thing, maybe it’s not. But during COVID wearing a face covering that covers your nose and mouth is a good way to add a layer of protection during sex. Heavy breathing and panting can spread the virus further, and if you or your partner have COVID and don’t know it, a mask can help stop that spread. For more information on how to wear masks correctly, click here.
      • If you want to take your masks off with a partner, you can reduce your risk of getting or transmitting COVID by doing the following: 1. Make sure you’re both vaccinated and boosted. 2. Take a rapid test before (and after). 3. Make sure you both consent to going maskless.
      • If one of you is at risk for COVID complications due to a health issue (like untreated HIV or being immunocompromised), it’s best to keep wearing masks regardless of your vaccination status.
      • If neither of you have been vaccinated, both of you should wear masks.
  • Make it a little kinky. Be creative with sexual positions and physical barriers, like glory holes, that allow sexual contact while preventing close face-to-face contact.
  • Masturbate together. Staying six feet apart and wearing face coverings reduce the risk.
  • Condoms and dental dams can reduce contact with saliva, semen, or feces during oral or anal sex. Click here to find out how to get free condoms.
  • Washing up before and after sex is more important than ever.
    • Wash hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds.
    • Wash sex toys with soap and warm water.
    • Disinfect keyboards and touch screens that you share with others.
  • If you feel unwell, or even start to feel unwell, avoid kissing, sex or any close contact with others. You can find a list of symptoms on the CDC’s website.
  • If you have been exposed to someone with COVID, avoid close contact with anyone outside your household and follow guidance about how to prevent exposing others. People exposed to COVID-19 should get tested for the virus using a swab or saliva test.
  • If you or your partner have a medical condition that can lead to severe COVID illness, you may also want to take extra precautions or skip sex.
  1. If you have symptoms, even if you haven’t taken a test.
  2. If you’ve been vaccinated, you need to go into isolation if you test positive.
  3. If you’ve been exposed to COVID,  and are not vaccinated, isolation is no longer required, but be sure to get tested.

Stay home, monitor your health, and follow directions from your state or local health department. Talk with your partners and other close contacts about your plan to end isolation. Going into isolation prevents the spread of COVID that can happen before you know whether or not you have COVID. Prepare for isolation here.

Look online for a free COVID test near you. If you can’t find one, call your primary care doctor or your local health department. There are different kinds of COVID-19 tests:

  • Home testing (antigen tests) which are sold in drug stores and also available for free at your local community testing sites &
  • PCR testing, which is more accurate but you need to go to a clinic to get one. They’re usually available for free as well.

It’s a good idea to get tested before meeting new people, particularly if you’re in a group; if you have any symptoms; or after you’ve been exposed to someone with COVID. For more information about testing, click here.

Get tested regularly for STIs and HIV as well. Go to to find out the nearest place to get a test. In some states, you may be able to get a free test sent to your home by going to

It’s best if you continue your normal PrEP routine through the coronavirus crisis. If you take PrEP daily, continuing this regimen will make it easier to jump back into your sex life as shelter-in-place orders lift. Taking daily PrEP is effective and safe. 

If you’re celibate during a shelter-in-place order, talk with your PrEP provider for guidance.

If you already take PrEP 2-1-1 (and have received counseling on how to do this accurately and safely), simply continue taking PrEP how you normally would.

If you do choose to discontinue PrEP, there are ways to do it safely. First, contact your PrEP healthcare provider and let them know you’d like to stop taking PrEP. Follow their guidance on how to stop PrEP–they will advise you on how many days to continue taking PrEP after your last sexual encounter.

If you stop taking PrEP, you’ll need to contact your healthcare provider and get an HIV test before you start taking PrEP again.

Switching to PrEP 2-1-1 

If you are interested in switching to taking PrEP on a 2-1-1 basis, discuss this option with your PrEP provider and make sure you understand how 2-1-1 works.  PrEP 2-1-1 is only effective for people having anal sex. It is not effective for people having receptive vaginal or front hole sex. Also, at this time, while there is evidence that Truvada is effective when taking it 2-1-1,  there is not enough evidence to support 2-1-1 dosing with Descovy. [Learn more about PrEP 2-1-1.]

Have your medication delivered 

If you’d prefer not to leave the house, many pharmacies like Walgreens and CVS are waiving delivery fees. Mail-order pharmacies can also ship your medication right to your home. Be sure to check the number of pills you have left, and order early, since free deliveries may take several days to get to you.

Consult with your primary care doctor to see if your HIV medications can be delivered.

  • Make quality time for yourself (and your partner). Many of us are spending extended amounts of time with housemates, so make time for yourself to do things you love like reading, taking a walk, or just watching your favorite TV show. If you’re partnered, it’s important to check-in with each other, and spend quality time together, even if it’s virtual.
  • If you’re in an abusive relationship and under shelter-in-place orders, these resources may be helpful for you. For support and counseling, you can live chat with the National Domestic Violence Hotline or call 1-800-799-7233
  • HIV: Condoms, taking pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) and having an undetectable viral load all help prevent HIV. For more information, click here.  
  • Other STIs: Using condoms helps to prevent other STIs. For more information on STIs, click here.
  • Pregnancy: Reproductive health services — as well as fertility services, prenatal care and cancer screenings – may be covered by your insurance company. Providers may be able to help you without an in-person visit. Planned Parenthood also provides many services: For more information, click here.
  • Get tested regularly for STIs, including HIV. To find a test site near you, go to