Sex and COVID-19

UPDATED March 23, 2022

Fortunately, the number of new COVID infections and deaths caused by COVID has decreased a lot in recent months. While access to free tests, vaccines, and new treatments have made a huge difference in preventing infections and severe outcomes, it’s important to keep in mind that there’s still a lot we don’t yet know. 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).

We’ve also learned that every so often, a new variant of COVID is discovered. The new Omicron and Omicron BA.2 variant of COVID is particularly contagious. No one knows what new 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 a booster shot. Schedule a vaccine or booster appointment at vaccines.gov. Vaccines are safe and very effective. Booster recommendations change often, but here is the most updated information from the CDC.
  2. Get tested. Testing is particularly important if you have any symptoms, have been exposed to someone who has tested positive, or before you attend an event with a lot of people. Order free COVID rapid tests from COVIDtests.gov. You can find in-person testing sites in your area here.
  3. You can reduce your risk by wearing a mask when you’re out in public. 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. Don’t beat yourself up if you still get COVID. While vaccines, boosters, masks and reducing contact with others will significantly reduce risk, they’re not 100% perfect. By using some or all of those strategies, you’re still doing your part to protect yourself and others in your community. 
  6. 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.

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

  • The virus most commonly spreads in the air through droplets or particles produced when a person with COVID-19 coughs, sneezes, talks, or sings (even if they do not have any symptoms). This is why masks and ventilation indoors are effective ways of preventing people from passing on COVID.
  • Getting vaccinated and boosted, avoiding kissing, and avoiding being close to each other without masks, are three 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 they had a booster shot?
    • Have they 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?
    • Have they been tested?
    • Are they at high risk for complications from COVID-19?
    • Have they had any COVID-19 symptoms since their vaccine?

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

We know now that people who are vaccinated can still get infected, but that doesn’t mean vaccines don’t work. Vaccines are very effective at keeping you from getting seriously ill. Very few people who have already gotten vaccinated and get reinfected have to go to the hospital. The vast majority of COVID patients in hospitals were never vaccinated. According to C.D.C. data, unvaccinated people are 4.5 times more likely to contract the coronavirus, 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. At least 12-30% of COVID-19 survivors develop long-term effects of the disease, and it’s estimated that 7.7-23 million people in the US have already developed long-COVID.

Unvaccinated and vaccinated people can both transmit COVID to others. It’s expected that people who have symptoms are more likely to transmit COVID than people who do not. 

The CDC also recommends that some people who are severely immunocompromised- including having advanced or untreated HIV infection – get a third dose. For more information, click here.

The CDC recommends the following for boosters:

  • For individuals who received a Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna COVID-19 vaccine, everyone 18 and over should get a  booster shot at 6 months or more after their initial series. Your booster can be from any of the COVID-19 vaccines authorized in the United States. 
  • For individuals who got the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine, get a booster shot if you were vaccinated two or more months ago. Your booster can be from any of the COVID-19 vaccines authorized in the United States.

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 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.
    • It’s very hard to determine if everyone has been vaccinated in a group setting. 
    • The more contact 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.
  • 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. In some states, you may be able to get a free test sent to your home by going to TakeMeHome.org.

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

  • 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, 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-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 take extra precautions or skip sex.

If you’ve been exposed to COVID-19, and are not vaccinated, go into quarantine.

If you have been vaccinated, you only need to go into quarantine if you have symptoms. 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.

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 & COVIDtests.gov.
  • 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 gettested.cdc.gov 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 TakeMeHome.org.

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 gettested.cdc.gov.