Dr Michael Brady explains why finding pleasure in different ways is key to fight the spread of corona virus
Many countries are in lockdown to slow the spread of corona-virus 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 men (i.e. anyone who was assigned male sex at birth and still identifies as a man), 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 men and women 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.
PrEP & Coronavirus
Coronavirus is changing life for all of us. It is also putting the NHS is under a lot of strain.
COVID-19 is a new illness that affects your lungs and airways. We need to protect ourselves, and others. We need to quickly stop it from spreading further.
Over the coming months, the NHS will continue to try to provide high quality care for everyone. This includes making sure PrEP is still as easy to access as possible.
Many clinics will speed up their PrEP service to reduce risks for patients. This might include some virtual services and shorter times at the clinic.
Screening might be reduced to let laboratories focus on tests from people who are very sick.
PrEP users are likely to only be tested for HIV and syphilis and maybe less often. Testing for other STIs might be cut back if you don’t have symptoms. PrEP is still very safe and effective with this reduced testing.
Doctors and community activists produced the information below. It included PrEP doctors, the British HIV Association (BHIVA), HIV Scotland, the British Association for Sexual Health & HIV (BASHH), i-Base and PrEPster. This will help you make informed choices that are right for you. It will help you continue to benefit from PrEP to prevent HIV.
If you have any questions about PrEP and coronavirus, please call the HIV Scotland helpline on 0131 558 3713.
This information has been pulled together at pace, and things are changing rapidly. If you want to discuss the content, or think something should be added – email us at firstname.lastname@example.org
Can I stop taking my daily dose of PrEP?
If you are planning to stop having sex, you may wish to stop daily dosing PrEP.
PrEP is very flexible if your circumstances change.
Before you stop, cis men* should carry on taking PrEP for another two sex-free days.
Everyone else should carry on taking PrEP for seven sex-free days. This includes when PrEP is being taken for vaginal/frontal protection.
*Cis man refers to anyone who was assigned male at birth and who still identifies as a man.
Can I change from daily dosing to event based PrEP?
Yes, but although PrEP is very flexible to change dosing – this is only for some people. It is also only if the PrEP you use is Tenofovir/emtricitabine(TDF/FTC).
Only cis men* who have sex with other men can safely change from daily dosing to Event Based PrEP.
Everyone else, including for vaginal/frontal protection, can only use daily dosing. Event Based PrEP is not suitable. For more information on Event Based PrEP please see the PrEPster website: www.prepster.info/ebp
Event based PrEP has not been studied using Descovy (TAF/FTC). If your current PrEP drug is Descovy, only daily dosing is recommended.
If you can use event-based PrEP, this involves:
- Taking a double dose 2 to 24 hours before sex.
- Taking a single pill every 24 hours, until you’ve had 2 sex free days.
For example, if you have sex once, this will involve a double dose before sex. Then a second pill after 24 and 48 hours. Total = 4 pills.
* Cis man refers to anyone who was assigned male at birth and who still identifies as a male.