Sex and Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19)

UPDATED June 17, 2021

The best way to protect yourself from COVID is to get vaccinated. Making sure your partner is vaccinated is important too. That’ll give you both the most protection. To find a vaccine near you, go to https://www.vaccines.gov or your state or local health department’s websites.

While getting vaccinated isn’t a guarantee you won’t get COVID, vaccines are very effective at keeping you from getting seriously ill or having to go to the hospital. They also can help you have a full sex life without feeling worried about getting infected with COVID, or infecting someone else.

There’s still a lot about vaccines we don’t yet know. How long will they stay effective? Will they stay effective against other strains as they come along?

Vaccines make it easier to have sex without fear. While there’s still a lot we don’t know, right now it appears that: 

  • If you and your partner are both fully vaccinated, you can have sex without masks on.
  • If one of you is vaccinated and the other is at high risk for complications from Covid it’s a good idea to wear masks.
  • If neither of you are fully vaccinated, wear masks. 

Keep checking the CDC’s website for updates.

We’ve faced a lot of challenges as a community. We can overcome this one as well. When it comes to sex, please read the very helpful guidelines below, based on the CDC, San Francisco AIDS Foundation and the New York City Department of Health.

You can also scroll down for information regarding Coronavirus for people living with HIV.

What do we now know about COVID-19?

  • Vaccines are available in many places, and more and more people are getting vaccinated every day! The field is changing very rapidly, so it’s important to stay up to date by going to the CDC’s website
  • Vaccines don’t provide instant protection, and it takes two weeks after you’ve gotten vaccinated (two weeks after your second shot if it’s made by Pfizer or Moderna, or after your one shot if it’s made by Johnson and Johnson) to be immune. 
  • You can still get infected within the two weeks after you get the vaccine. We still don’t know whether those who received a COVID-19 vaccine can still transmit disease to others without getting sick themselves.  
  • Vaccines aren’t 100% effective at preventing you from getting infected, although they’ll keep you from getting seriously ill and from having to go to the hospital. 
  • CDC guidelines state that fully vaccinated people can now resume activities without wearing a mask or physically distancing, except where required by federal, state, local, tribal, or territorial laws, rules, and regulations, including local business and workplace guidance. They can also resume domestic travel. You don’t need routine testing; however, if you experience COVID-19 symptoms you should get tested. For additional guidance on what’s allowed and what’s not, go to the CDC’s website.
  • CDC now recommends COVID-19 vaccination for everyone 12 years of age and older to help protect against COVID-19.
  • Treatments for COVID-19 have improved, although it can still be life-threatening for people of any age.
  • The number of cases is increasing in many parts of the country, although fortunately the number of deaths is decreasing.
  • There are new strains of COVID-19 which appear to spread more easily and quickly than other variants. Currently, there is no evidence that they cause more severe illness or increased risk of death. 
  • Wearing a mask in public prevents the spread of COVID-19. If you’re not vaccinated, wear a mask while in public for your safety and the safety of others. Two masks are better than one. For more information about how to wear masks, go to https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/your-health/effective-masks.html
  • If you and your partner are both vaccinated, you can have sex without masks on.
  • If one of you is vaccinated and the other is at high risk for complications from COVID-19 it’s a good idea to wear masks when having sex.
  • If neither of you are fully vaccinated, wear masks when having sex. Read on for more information about how to do so as safely as possible. 

 

Can you have sex?

Yes! Here is some useful information and some tips for how to enjoy safer sex and reduce the risk of spreading COVID-19:

You can get COVID-19 from a person who has it, and especially by being physically close to that person.

  • The virus most commonly spreads through droplets or particles produced when a person with COVID-19 coughs, sneezes, talks, or sings (even if they do not have any symptoms).
  • Avoiding kissing, and avoiding being close to each other without masks, are two of the most effective ways to prevent transmission.

We still have a lot to learn about COVID-19 and sex. 

  • We do not know if COVID-19 can be spread through oral, vaginal or anal sex, although we do know that it’s transmitted by being close to another person – particularly if you’re not wearing masks. Condoms, saran wrap and finger cots can help reduce risk from oral contact with genital areas as well as oral-anal or vaginal sex.
  • Have an honest conversation with your sex partners, housemates, and any other close contacts about any significant exposures they may have had.
  • People can be asymptomatic.
    • It is possible to have coronavirus and not show signs of infection. Continue to practice social distancing in public.
    • Most COVID-19 transmission occurs from individuals who are not symptomatic.
  • Tell your partners if you get diagnosed with COVID-19.
    • If you tested positive for COVID-19, tell your sex partners and housemates directly or by going to TellYourContacts.org.
  • Ask questions!
    • Have they been vaccinated – and has it been more than two weeks since they were?
    • Have your partners been diagnosed with COVID-19? People who have recovered from COVID-19 for at least 10 days from the day their symptoms started are likely no longer infectious.
    • Have they been exposed to someone with COVID-19 in the last two days?
    • Are they at high risk for complications from COVID-19?
    • Have they had any COVID-19 symptoms since their vaccine?
  • Use apps, videos, and texting to keep meeting guys – without 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.
  • You should avoid close contact — including sex — with anyone outside your household. If you do have sex with others outside of 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 hook up
    • 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 interacting with people who are or may be at risk for severe COVID-19 illness, such as 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.
  • If you do have sex with others, have as few partners as possible. 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.
  • Avoid group sex including sex parties, since that increases the risk for everyone there, including you.
    • The more contacts we have with others, the longer the pandemic will last. This means we all need to have as few social and sexual contacts as possible.
    • It’s very hard to determine if everyone has been vaccinated in a group setting. 
  • 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.
  • Limit all contacts – not just sexual – and maintain social distance.
    • Until there is clear guidance in your area about returning to normal daily activities, continue to keep social distance from anyone outside of your household
  • Have sex only with consenting partners. To learn more about consent, visit on.nyc.gov/consent.
  • 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 gettested.cdc.gov for a directory of free test sites near you. 
  • Kissing can easily spread  COVID-19. 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-19. 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-19 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-19 and don’t know it, a mask can help stop that spread. For more information on how to wear masks correctly, go to https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/your-health/effective-masks.html. If both of you are vaccinated, it’s ok to take off the masks; if you’ve been vaccinated and your partner may be at risk for complications for COVID-19, it’s best to keep wearing them. 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. (It’s also a good idea to take a break even if all you have is a cold or the flu – you don’t want to pass those on!)
  • If you have been exposed to someone with COVID-19, 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-19 illness, you may also want to skip sex.

If you’ve been exposed to COVID-19, and are not vaccinated, go into quarantine. That will help prevent spread of disease that can occur before you know whether or not you’ve been infected. Stay home, monitor your health, and follow directions from your state or local health department. [Read more from CDC.govTalk with your partners and other close contacts about your plan to start or stop quarantining.

It’s probably 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 once the shelter-in-place order lifts. Taking daily PrEP is effective and safe. 

If you’re celibate during the 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.]

Extend your prescription 

If you are part of a PrEP Health Program, it may be possible to extend your PrEP prescription until the shelter-in-place order lifts. That means your PrEP provider can continue to provide 30-day refills until the order is lifted.  For specifics regarding your care, please reach out to your healthcare provider.

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.

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

Call your primary care doctor or your local health department to find out where to get tested for COVID-19. There are different kinds of COVID-19 tests:

  • A viral test tells if you have a current infection
  • An antibody test indicates if you have had a previous infection
  • For more information about testing, click here

While vaccines are very effective, some people still get infected. Consider getting retested, particularly if you don’t feel well. 

Get tested regularly for STIs and HIV as well. Go to gettested.cdc.gov to find out the nearest place to get a test.

  • Vaccines are available in many places, and more and more people are getting vaccinated every day!  To find a vaccine near you, go to https://www.vaccines.gov.
  • The science is changing very rapidly, so it’s important to stay up to date by going to the CDC’s website
  • Vaccines don’t provide instant protection, and it can take two weeks after you’ve gotten vaccinated (two weeks after your second shot if it’s made by Pfizer or Moderna, or after your one shot if it’s made by Johnson and Johnson) to achieve immunity.
  • You can still get infected just after you get the vaccine. We still don’t know whether those who received a COVID-19 vaccine can still transmit disease to others without getting sick themselves.  
  • Vaccines aren’t 100% effective at preventing you from getting infected, although they’ll keep you from getting seriously ill and from having to go to the hospital. 
  • Treatments for COVID-19 have improved, although it can still be life-threatening for people of any age.
  • The number of cases is still increasing in many parts of the country, although fortunately the number of deaths is greatly decreasing.
  • There are new strains of COVID-19 which appear to spread more easily and quickly than other variants. Currently, there is no evidence that they cause more severe illness or increased risk of death. 
  • CDC guidelines state that fully vaccinated people can now resume activities without wearing a mask or physically distancing, except where required by federal, state, local, tribal, or territorial laws, rules, and regulations, including local business and workplace guidance. They can also resume domestic travel. You don’t need routine testing; however, if you experience COVID-19 symptoms you should get tested. For additional guidance on what’s allowed and what’s not, go to the CDC’s website
  • CDC now recommends COVID-19 vaccination for everyone 12 years of age and older to help protect against COVID-19. 
  • If you and your partner are both fully vaccinated, you can have sex without masks on.
  • If one of you is vaccinated and the other is at high risk for complications from COVID-19, it’s a good idea to wear masks.
  • If neither of you are fully vaccinated, wear masks.
  • For more information on COVID-19 vaccines, click here and here. 
  • If you’re HIV+, it’s a good idea to get a vaccine.
  • If you and your partner(s) are living apart under shelter-in-place orders, it’s important to keep in touch and connected with phone calls, texting, sexting, watching movies together, or getting creative!
  • 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.

Adapted from National Coalition of Sexual Health

  • 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 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. To find a test site near you, go to gettested.cdc.gov.