Coronavirus: Avoid kissing, wear mask and go for virtual sex if abstinence is not working out, say researchers

Experts says abstinence is the best option but it may not be feasible for many


                            Coronavirus: Avoid kissing, wear mask and go for virtual sex if abstinence is not working out, say researchers
(Getty Images)

Sex may also spread the new coronavirus and couples should take preventative measures, which includes wearing a face mask and avoiding kissing. These are the recommendations of three Harvard scientists on how to reduce the risk of transmitting Covid-19 during sex. While the sexual transmission of Covid-19 has not been studied in detail, it is a very contagious disease that spreads from person-to-person, mainly through respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs or sneezes. 

“The sexual health implications (of Covid-19) have received little focus. Sexual expression is a central aspect of human health but is often neglected by healthcare providers. On the basis of existing data, it appears all forms of in-person sexual contact carry the risk for viral transmission because the virus is readily transmitted by aerosols and fomites. This has resulted in broad guidance regarding physical distancing, with substantial implications for sexual well-being,” says the research team in their report published in the Annals of Internal Medicine.

The scientists from Harvard Medicine School, Boston, ranked different sexual practices on the basis of how likely it is that a person would catch coronavirus while doing them, from least to most risky. They maintain that sexual abstinence offers the lowest risk during the coronavirus pandemic, but it may not be a feasible option for many. The experts warn that messaging around sex being dangerous may have “insidious psychological effects” at a time when people are especially susceptible to mental health difficulties. “Some groups, including sexual and gender minority (SGM) communities, may be particularly vulnerable to sexual stigma, given the historical trauma of other pandemics, such as AIDS. Abstinence recommendations may conjure memories of the widespread stigmatization of SGM people during the AIDS crisis. For the population at large, a recommendation of long-term sexual abstinence is unlikely to be effective, given the well-documented failures of abstinence-based public health interventions and their likelihood to promote shame,” they say.

Masturbation is an additional safe recommendation for patients to meet their sexual needs without the risk for Covid-19 infection, says the team. In the third place is sexual activity on digital platforms. Patients can be counseled to engage in sexual activity with partners via telephone or video chat services, suggests the study. “Given that abstinence-only recommendations are likely to promote shame and unlikely to achieve intended behavioral outcomes, sex-positive recommendations regarding remote sexual activity are optimal during the pandemic, balancing human needs for intimacy with personal safety and pandemic control,” says the team.

Patients can be counseled to engage in sexual activity with partners via telephone or video chat services, recommend experts. (Getty Images)

Given privacy concerns, however, the team recommends that people should be counseled to use secure encrypted platforms. The researchers suggest that people should also be warned about the risks for sexual partners taking screenshots of conversations and relevant risks and laws regarding sexual extortion. They, however, acknowledge that for some, including those without internet access and minors at home from school who are in environments “unaccepting of their sexual orientation,” digital sexual practices may not be feasible. “During all conversations, healthcare providers should express a nonjudgmental stance to encourage comfortable discussion and minimize shame. This is particularly important with minors because fear of judgment can lead them to withhold information about sexual risk behaviors,” the findings state.

The next approach is having sex only with whom a person is self-quarantined. According to the researchers, this comes with a high risk of infection given that one or both partners might have caught the virus from outside of the home and that a person could be at risk for infection from an asymptomatic partner.

The last approach -- sex with persons other than those with whom one is self-quarantined - is considered to be most risky. To reduce the chances of Covid-19 infection, the authors suggest that people can reduce the number of sexual partners. “Patient should be counseled on the risk for infection from partners, as well as risk reduction techniques that include minimizing the number of sexual partners, avoiding sex partners with symptoms consistent with SARS-CoV-2, avoiding kissing and sexual behaviors with a risk for fecal-oral transmission or that involve semen or urine, wearing a mask, showering before and after sexual intercourse, and cleaning of the physical space with soap or alcohol wipes,” says the study.

According to the researchers, given the important role of sexuality in most people's lives, healthcare providers should consider counseling patients on this topic whenever possible. “As we continue to fight the pandemic, researchers and healthcare providers ought to keep human sexuality in mind as an important aspect of health and counsel patients whenever possible. Public health officials must continue to disseminate accurate sexual health information. We need to collect more data on the risks related to SARS-CoV-2 (the virus that causes Covid-19) transmission through intimate contact, best practices in sexual counseling, and optimal approaches for risk reduction,” recommends the team. 

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