Along with being National Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month and National Suicide Prevention Month, September is also Sexual Health Month. Naturally, sexual health is an integral component of one’s overall wellness. According to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, a robust and revered psychological framework, sex is a basic physiological need that makes more complex forms of human survival and well-being possible. This makes sense given that most of us wouldn’t be here without it. Even though the subject is often deemed to be taboo or only appropriate in certain spheres, we need to be willing to have open conversations about the maintenance of sexual health and satisfaction. This often involves considering safe sex practices, contraception, consent, pleasure, and other pertinent elements as well. This September, these sexual health discussions are, unsurprisingly, impacted by the seemingly all-encompassing coronavirus pandemic. The social distancing mandates of remaining six feet apart complicates many of our typical approaches to physical intimacy. Due to top-priority public health concerns, our relationships to sexual wellness may change, but that doesn’t mean that sex is completely out of the equation. In fact, responsibly addressing sexual health can be a great way to make the pandemic more bearable. We all just have to be conscious of the potential risks.
First and foremost, it is important to note that COVID-19 is not sexually transmitted. In other words, having sex would not be the primary means by which one would be exposed to or infected with the virus. However, COVID-19 is a respiratory illness that can easily spread through coughing, sneezing, and exchanging saliva (i.e. kissing). Engaging in sexual activity doesn’t put one at risk because it is sex specifically, but rather because of the physical proximity more generally. Though COVID-19 has not been detected in vaginal fluid, there have been traces of the virus found in the fecal matter of those who have been infected, which makes certain forms of sex (i.e. oral and anal) more susceptible to viral transmission. Furthermore, a recent study has indicated the coronavirus particles have been found in the semen of men currently and previously infected; yet, it is still unclear the extent to which that correlates with transmission. Given the amount of unknowns that still surround COVID-19 and the six-foot radius that should generally still surround us when interacting with people outside our households, introducing new sexual partners is largely discouraged. Close proximity to anyone poses a risk for viral contact and that risk only goes up upon exposure to more people.
To be clear, only engaging in sex with a long-term monogamous cohabitant partner does not make one 100% safe from the virus. Since the COVID often doesn’t display any symptoms until well after it becomes transmissible, the virus can be passed on unknowingly with even the slightest bit of physical contact. That said, we don’t want discourage sex or other forms of physical intimacy entirely. We all have to remember that public health concerns should play a heightened role in shaping our decisions. In many ways, we need to be willing to make sacrifices for the wellness and recovery of our broader communities. In essence, sexual health will always be a crucial part of our own wellness journeys and societal health at-large. In light of the pandemic however, practicing safe sex has a whole new realm of implications. Navigating sexual health in the COVID-19 world is far from straightforward, but we cannot afford to shy away from these discussions if we ever want the world to return to normal. Here is a list of resources to learn more about safer sex during the pandemic: