Sex and COVID

Timaree headshot
Sex advice shouldn’t be syndicated. We wanted a local feel to ours so we’ve enlisted the sound advice of resident sex professor Timaree Schmit. Have a question about your love life that needs answers? Email her at | Image: Redlite photos

There’s a light at the end of the tunnel coming into view.

Sure, rates of COVID-19 in Philly are still unnervingly high. Yet I’m optimistic, as the city unveiled its site for registering interest in the vaccine. 

We are still learning more about this virus every day, but at this point, we’ve had a year to gather data, which we can use to navigate the remaining months of this pandemic. Let’s take a look at what we know about the virus as it relates to matters of sexuality.

Sex & COVID Spread

Can you get COVID from having sex? Yep. If you’re within a few feet of a person and sharing the same air, you’re at risk of transmission, even if neither of you are showing symptoms. Health departments from around the country have advised that the safest option for sex partners is yourself, followed by people you live with. 

If you’re going to have sex with someone outside your household, get together in a large, well-ventilated space, and wash up before and after sex. Avoid kissing and wear masks, if possible. Skip sex if you’re not feeling well. We know the virus is spread by exhaled droplets, but COVID has also been found in saliva, semen and feces, so minimize risk by using condoms or dental dams during oral play. 

“If you’re living with a partner, you’ve likely found that the stress of being constantly in the same space is as tough as distance.”

If you or your partner have COVID, stay away from sexual contact – or any physical contact, really – for 14 days. Abstain until at least seven days after symptoms started and you’ve been able to stay fever-free without medication for at least 72 hours.

Despite the pressing issue of the pandemic, we still must consider sexually transmitted infections. Some of them have gotten even more virulent in the wake of COVID, as health-care resources are being pulled away from clinics and fewer people are seeking testing and treatment

We’re seeing record high rates of many STIs, and some strains of treatable infections are becoming stronger and drug resistant – which can potentially lead to them becoming untreatable. All of this is a great argument for the expansion of telemedicine, but in the meantime: Use condoms and other barrier methods with any partner whose STI status is not known to you. 

Building & Maintaining Relationships

Dating is rough anytime, but we’re presented with unique challenges now. I still recommend that if you meet people on dating apps to move the conversation to another platform quickly – whether it be video chat or a distanced in-person hang. Starting a new relationship with radical honesty about risks and boundaries is scary but ultimately sets a great foundation for communication in the future, so talk openly about your level of concern and the precautions you take, and don’t fall for pressure to go outside your comfort zone. 

“So you had COVID. How will this affect you, sexually? A lot remains to be learned and people have varying experiences.”

If you can’t be with your lover physically right now, I feel for you and literally wrote my last column about it (so go check it out!). If you’re living with a partner, you’ve likely found that the stress of being constantly in the same space is as tough as distance. Divorces and splits are exponentially more likely right now. To keep the passion alive in these situations: Schedule adventures outside your home that are novel for both of you. Consider dining outdoors in a yurt, taking an online class, or perhaps you can go for a long walk to a new part of town. Take notes from how polyamorous and consensually non-monogamous people are dealing with the pandemic by forming tight bubbles of exposure, openly discussing the risk level with which you are comfortable. 

Gender and Sexual Orientation in the Pandemic

Not everyone is feeling the impact of the pandemic equally. Gender is a predictor of how seriously someone will take the threat of COVID and the odds they will take precautions, with women more likely to engage in mitigating behaviors like distancing and wearing masks. Regardless, we have to note that women – specifically women of color – are hardest hit economically, with higher rates of job losses and expected increases in child care. 

LGBTQ people are also being disproportionately impacted by the pandemic, as it exaggerates existing health disparities. This has added to a massive divide within the queer scene. Some within the gay community are exhausted from distancing measures and are headed back into massive parties, while others are shaming this risky behavior. 

COVID Impacts on Sexuality

So you had COVID. How will this affect you, sexually? A lot remains to be learned and people have varying experiences. Again, wait until after you have recovered and have gone at least three unmedicated days without fever before returning to sexual activity. 

It’s hard to predict how you will be impacted sexually. In some cases, people experience an increase in sex drive after recovery – or at least a freedom that comes from no longer feeling scared of being infected. Other folks are having unpleasant symptoms, like irregular periods or low libido. There is also significant research to indicate the erectile dysfunction may linger long after COVID recovery. 

We’re still learning about the long-term ramifications, so it’s wise to take note of whatever you experience and share it with your health professionals. 

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  • Timaree Schmit Headshot

    Timaree Schmit is basically an episode of Adam Ruins Everything, but in the shape of a person. She has a PhD in Human Sexuality Education and years of experience in community organizing, performance art, and finding the extra weird pockets of Philly.

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