As if sex and dating weren't already complicated enough, enter COVID-19. With social distancing orders in place, you've either taken your dating game online or put it on pause entirely. But what does this new normal mean for co-habitating couples in which one or both partners have been deemed essential workers? Is sex safe if you’re an essential worker?
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, COVID-19 (the disease caused by the novel coronavirus) primarily spreads from person to person when they're in close contact, which is defined as being within approximately six feet of one another. According to the CDC, "Spread happens when an infected person coughs, sneezes, or talks, and droplets from their mouth or nose are launched into the air and land in the mouths or noses of people nearby." Things in the bedroom get even trickier when you consider that asymptomatic people (people who are infected but show no symptoms) can also transmit the virus. Because it's such a difficult situation to navigate, Elite Daily spoke with Vincent R. Racaniello, Ph.D., a microbiology and immunology professor at Columbia University, and Amesh Adalja, MD, FIDSA, who specializes in emerging infectious disease, pandemic preparedness, and biosecurity, for their advice on how to handle this highly personal issue.
First thing's first: Is sex safe for essential workers right now?
According to Dr. Racaniello, any person-to-person contact with someone with potential COVID-19 exposure should be considered "risky activity," including sexual activity. "Understand that sex places both partners in very close proximity, and therefore can lead to the exchange of respiratory secretions," Dr. Racaniello tells Elite Daily. In this case, essential workers should proceed with caution, especially if one or both of the partners are showing signs of infection. "If a person is sick, with a fever, coughing, or sneezing, they should refrain from contact with others for the duration of their symptoms," Dr. Adalja tells Elite Daily.
That said, it's also important to keep in mind that it's possible to transmit the virus without showing any symptoms at all. According to the CDC, "There are reports of asymptomatic infections (detection of the virus with no development of symptoms) and pre-symptomatic infections (detection of the virus before the development of symptoms)." Because of this, Dr. Racaniello says casual sex should be avoided for the time being. (Especially when it's with someone you're not exclusive with.) Sex with an exclusive partner if they are an essential worker and have been potentially been exposed to the coronavirus is also risky, even if you live together. "If two people are living alone, then sex would be acceptable as long as they understand that this is a good way to infect each other," he explains. "There's nothing that can be done to make sexual activity safe if one partner is infected."
It's a risk, but it's your call.
Based on both doctors' advice, it's ultimately up to you and your partner to decide what's right for you in this situation. "People are going to have to live during this pandemic, and I do think it’s important that people pursue the values that are important to them," says Dr. Adalja, although he adds that regular safe sex practices are still important as ever. "Though coronaviruses are not sexually transmitted, other sexually transmitted infections also need to be considered, so safe sex practices still should be the norm."
In these trying times, particularly for essential workers who are often on the front lines, the best defense is to make decisions about you and your partner's health based on factual information, even when the answers are less than ideal. The key is to make them together with eyes wide open.
If you think you're showing symptoms of coronavirus, which include fever, shortness of breath, and cough, call your doctor before going to get tested. If you're anxious about the virus's spread in your community, visit the CDC for up-to-date information and resources, or seek out mental health support. You can find all Elite Daily's coverage of coronavirus here.
Amesh Adalja, MD, FIDSA, specializing in emerging infectious disease, pandemic preparedness, and biosecurity
Vincent R. Racaniello, Ph.D., microbiology and immunology professor