Don’t hook up during the COVID-19 lockdown

Gscene Editorial Team March 26, 2020

Dr Michael Brady Medical Director at the Terrance Higgins Trust explains why finding pleasure in different ways is key to fight the spread of coronavirus.

The country is now on lockdown to slow the spread of coronavirus and that has to include not hooking up for sex.

I’ve never been an advocate of promoting abstinence, but this message is not about protecting your sexual health: it’s about protecting your general health and those around you from a virus that can be deadly. This is extraordinary and unprecedented advice for us to be giving out, but these are extraordinary and unprecedented times.

This follows the new measures which have been announced by the Government telling everyone to stay at home, to stop face-to-face socialising, to stop all non-essential journeys and to limit our movement to activities like going out to the nearest shop for food and one form of exercise a day. In addition, as announced by the Prime Minister, you must also stay away from anyone outside your immediate household to stop the virus being spread from one household to another.

This advice means that, unless you have sex with someone within your household, it’s important to find sexual pleasure in other ways. Despite the situation with COVID-19, we need to remember that sex is an important part of life, but right now we have to find other ways to achieve sexual pleasure and satisfaction.

It’s only natural that we look to sex for pleasure, to relieve stress and anxiety or simply to pass the time – whether that’s with a regular partner or using hook-up apps. But our ‘new normal’ is that we have to find ways to do this while sticking to the advice to stay at home. This isn’t just to protect ourselves against the coronavirus but also to protect the most vulnerable in our society.

I never thought I’d say this but the reality is that, for the time being, you are your safest sexual partner. It’s time to stay at home, stop close contact with people outside our household and to be creative about how we manage our sex lives. Hopefully the FAQs below will answer any sex-related questions you have during the lockdown.

Frequently asked questions

Can the coronavirus be passed on through sex?

There’s currently no evidence that the coronavirus can be passed on through sexual contact but it certainly is spread through close physical contact (e.g. being within two metres of someone puts you at increased risk). The virus can be passed on through direct contact with saliva or mucus, so this would include kissing. The COVID-19 virus has also been found in the faeces of people who are infected so rimming may also be a risk for infection.

It is safe to have sex?

Unfortunately washing your hands and not kissing someone during sex isn’t enough to stop the virus. Even if someone doesn’t have symptoms, they may still have the virus. It’s estimated perhaps as many as 1 in 3 people with COVID-19 have no symptoms – but can still pass the virus on to others. That could be you or a potential partner.

If you still want to have sex with someone else, then the safest partner is someone you live with. Having close contact – including sex – with only one person or a small circle of people helps to reduce the risk of the virus spreading. It’s strongly advised that you don’t hook up with strangers or multiple partners for sex.

Reducing body contact and having less sex really will make a big impact on reducing the onward transmission of the coronavirus.

What other ways can I have sex?

You are your safest sexual partner right now. There is no risk of passing on coronavirus through masturbation and there’s plenty of evidence that shows masturbation can relieve stress and anxiety. If you use sex toys, make sure you wash them and your hands with soap for at least 20 seconds before and after.

Technology also now means there are different ways to connect with partners, e.g. phone sex or video dates using WhatsApp or other platforms. Just make sure you aren’t pressured into anything that makes you feel uncomfortable.

Should I be using hook-up apps?

Hook-up apps are playing a great role in signposting people to support services such as mental health advice and mean people can stay connected. If you do choose to hook up with someone, then it’s really important to reduce any potential harm of spreading the coronavirus.

Avoid kissing, wash your hands and use condoms to reduce contact with saliva during oral sex. But the best advice is to avoid hook-ups altogether. Even if you meet someone you like on an app, it would be far better to enjoy each other online via video chat or messaging or even good old-fashioned phone sex! Just be careful of the images you share – be aware that images might identify you and a chat session might be viewed by others or recorded.

Should I still be taking PrEP?

We’re advising that during the lockdown you don’t hook up or travel to meet someone. Therefore, many people will choose to stop taking PrEP, unless there is a specific need – for example if you live with a partner with a detectable HIV viral load.

For cis gay and bisexual men (i.e. anyone who was assigned male sex at birth, still identifies as a man and has sex with other men), it’s safe to stop taking PrEP as long as you stop after two full days after you last had sex. For everyone else, including cis women, trans people and non-binary people, it’s advised you wait until seven full days before stopping.

When you’re ready to re-start PrEP, cis gay and bisexual men can re-start with a double dose taken two to 24 hours before sex. For everyone else, you need re-start with a daily dose for seven days before having sex again.

What if I need to get tested for an STI?

Sexual health services are reducing their face-to-face appointments and will only be able to see emergency or urgent cases. This is to reduce the risk of infection and to free up capacity so staff can work elsewhere in the NHS. It may not be possible to get tested in a clinic, but you can still request a home sampling kit to test at home if that service is available near you. Check out your local sexual health clinic website for more information.

If you need treatment, rest assured you will still be able to access this. For any urgent or emergency support, contact your local clinic.

We’re living in extraordinary times and we all need to take extraordinary measures. Remember that this is not forever and, by playing your part, you’re helping to reduce the strain on the NHS and to protect yourself and others.

We’ll continue to follow developments and adjust our guidance accordingly. If you have any questions please contact THT Direct on 0808 802 1221.