Dr. Jeffrey Klausner, a primary care physician in Los Angeles, has treated gay men for decades. Since the start of the coronavirus pandemic, he said, many patients have so dramatically changed their sexual behavior that they shrug off the need for routine screenings for sexually transmitted diseases.
“They say, ‘I haven’t had any contact since I saw you last, so there’s no need to do any STD tests,’” said Klausner, an adjunct professor of epidemiology and infectious diseases at UCLA.
But attitudes among these patients are shifting, Klausner has noticed, now that California and other states are loosening policies on social distancing. “People are starting to think about a return to engaging [in sex],” he said, “and are asking me, are there ways they can remain safe” from COVID-19?
Concerns about sexual intimacy during an epidemic are universal and not limited to gay men, of course. Public health experts, including those long involved in HIV prevention, recognize that a proportion of all people are likely to ignore or reject categorical mandates about sexual behavior — whether they involve using condoms or limiting contact because of social distancing norms.
Thinking of hooking up during a pandemic? COVID cases are on the rise, and while it’s not illegal to get your rocks off with a stranger, here’s some tips to consider before you host.
Be responsible for the health of everyone around you.
When you prepare to hookup with a new partner, think about who else you’re around and who might be impacted if you get sick. Your sex life should be your personal business — except during a pandemic.
What about sex?
Speaking of protection, here’s a question that probably never made it into dating advice columns: If you aren’t willing or able to get tested or complete a two-week quarantine beforehand, are masks necessary during sexual encounters? Experts suggest that when it comes to getting physical with a partner, people should wear masks and avoid kissing. That’s because a primary mode of transmission is mouth-to-mouth, so to speak — particles breathed out by someone infected, then inhaled by someone else.
Unfortunately, we don’t know how much the risk goes down when you wear a mask while having sex. Ultimately, it’s going to be a high-risk activity whether or not you wear the masks and avoid kissing.
Take the same health precautions you normally would, plus some new ones.
Though some carriers of the virus don’t show any symptoms at all, make sure to ask your partner some basic screening questions before you even meet up. These should include whether they have been in contact with someone who has COVID-19 in the last several days; if they’ve experienced shortness of breath, a cough, or difficulty breathing, have a fever or chills; or if they’ve had a loss of taste or smell.
The experts we interviewed agreed that you should be asking potential partners these queries pretty early on, ideally before meeting in person. The answers help you gain a better sense of how much exposure this person has to other people and to environments that pose a risk of contracting the coronavirus. Basically, you’re trying to assess your risk of getting sick if you start a relationship.
You can now also get tested for virus antigens or antibodies in most states. We know that testing isn’t 100% accurate, and unfortunately you’re only as good as the time when you got tested. That means that even if you got tested two days before your hookup, there’s no guarantee that you didn’t contract the virus since.
Even if you take every precaution, getting physically intimate with someone still puts you, your partner, and everyone you both come into contact with at risk. Really consider whether that risk is worth it, and remember that while coronavirus remains a major problem the safest possible sex is still the virtual kind.
Relationships can be helpful.
Although dating in the era of COVID-19 does present a series of risks, we have to assess it similarly to how we assess the risks we take when going to the grocery store or to a testing site. Meaningful emotional connections are still an essential part of everyday life — and we should keep the rewards and benefits of dating in mind, just as we do with buying food or seeking medical care.
We should not downplay the importance of human connection because relationships are what help us stay mentally sane through something like this.
Have you found the right one, or are you still searching?
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