Sex & Relationships

How To Practice Safe Sex Amid A Pandemic

"When were you last tested?" has a whole new meaning.

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Even the most comprehensive sex-ed probably skipped the chapter about how to have safe sex during a global pandemic. Whether you're gearing up to finally meet up with your Hinge crush or recently rekindled a spark with an old flame, you're probably thinking about the safest ways to have sex with someone you're not quarantining with.

According to Dr. Sherry A. Ross, women’s health expert, even if you test negative for COVID, having sex with someone you're not quarantining with means opening yourself up to the risk of contraction.

"Dating and COVID don’t work well together," Dr. Ross tells Bustle. "Since the virus spreads through respiratory droplets, it’s easy to be exposed to these droplets during intimacy."

As Dr. Ross shares, the safest possible way to have sex with someone new right now is still over the phone. From swapping steamy texts to getting naked over FaceTime, a virtual hookup means no risk of contraction for anyone involved.

But if you and your date are interested in meeting IRL, and you both tested negative for COVID and discussed the risks, here are 10 ways to limit potential exposure during a hookup.

Minimize your number of sexual partners.

When you're not amid a global pandemic, there is no limit to how many people you "should" be getting it on with. But in light of COVID-19, Dr. Ross suggests minimizing the number of people you're sleeping with. That way, you're risking less exposure to the virus and limiting the people that you could potentially contaminate.

Talk about your risk factors.

According to Dr. Natasha Bhuyan, regional director of One Medical, if your date is an essential worker who has been on the frontlines or out bar-hopping, they might have different risk profiles when compared to someone who has been working from home and not going out. "This is an opportunity to think about consent," Dr. Bhuyan tells Bustle. "If one person knowingly has COVID-19 but does not disclose to their partner, this violates the partner’s ability to consent."

Get tested.

The phrase, "So, when were you last tested?" has a whole new meaning. If you or your date have been showing symptoms of the virus (fever, dry cough, fatigue), it's important to postpone any IRL dates and get tested immediately. However, even if you're feeling completely healthy, Dr. Ross urges you both to get tested for coronavirus, in case you have the virus asymptomatically. "If you test negative, you both can be socially isolated for 14 days and then get retested," Dr. Ross says. "If you both negative [the second time], you may be fine to be intimate with each other."

Tell your quarantine pod.

"Anytime you expand your social bubble, you are increasing your risk for COVID-19," Dr. Bhuyan says. "If you live with roommates, you should notify them anytime you bring someone to your home who is not part of your standard social bubble." If you're putting yourself at risk of contracting COVID, you're also putting the people you live with at risk. In addition to getting tested yourself, Dr. Ross suggests ensuring that you and your date's roommates are also getting tested and following social-distancing guidelines. While it may feel uncomfortable to be direct with them about your sex life or COVID status, Dr. Ross says it's imperative to be as transparent as possible. If your roommate is not OK with you breaking social-distancing, it's important to create a plan that prioritizes everyone's comfort.

Consider sticking to mutual masturbation.

Touching yourselves in front of each other can be a great way to spread good vibes without spreading germs. "Masturbation from six feet apart might be your best bet to enjoy each other in person knowing neither of you is at risk for passing on COVID-19," Dr. Ross says. Like dinner and a show, consider this a lesson and some lovin'. Show your partner the ways you enjoy being touched, and what your body best responds to. If you're feeling up for it, bring some of your favorite toys or prompts into the bedroom, too. (If you're sharing toys, be sure to sanitize them!) This can also be a great way to connect with partners that test positive for STIs or haven't been tested in a while because of quarantine.

Wear a mask and avoid kissing.

ICYMI, the New York City Health Department literally recommended wearing a mask and limiting kissing as you're getting it on. While this may sound impossible (or just not as pleasurable), Dr. Ross says it can be a safer way to get frisky. "If any of the droplets get into the skin, you can innocently touch the droplets and then touch your eyes or mouth," Dr. Ross says. From doggy style to reverse cowgirl, there are tons of positions that allow for deep penetration without face-to-face contact with a partner. Perhaps you bring a chair into the bedroom, so you and your partner are at different heights or get it on facing a wall, so you're not tempted to kiss. Though having sex with your mask on may feel a little awkward, if you're going to be in close physical contact with someone, wearing a mask can greatly reduce the potential spread of the virus. Try to laugh about it, knowing that you and your date are prioritizing your safety.

Use barrier protective methods.

These days, asking your hookup if they have "protection" might refer to PPE. While it's important to wear your mask as you're getting it on, both doctors share it's (still) as important to use condoms or dental dams and to limit (or completely skipping over) oral or anal sex. "Avoid any sexual contact that involves exposure to vaginal secretions, semen or feces," Dr. Ross says. Dr. Bhuyan notes that while there is limited evidence that the virus can be transmitted via semen or vaginal fluids, studies have shown the virus can be detected in semen.

Wash your hands and shower (alone).

Because the virus can spread so easily, it's important to shower and sanitize your body before and after having sex. "You want to make sure that you're as clean as you can be before and after," Dr. Ross says. While you may be tempted to take a steamy shower with your date, Dr. Ross reiterates the importance of wearing a mask and limiting kissing and face-to-face contact. It's still imperative that you wash your hands before and after (for at least 20 seconds).

Sanitize your surroundings.

Dr. Ross also emphasizes how important it is to sanitize your surroundings. "Use disinfectant on hard surfaces and make sure your sheets and bedding are wash and cleaned before and after sexual activity," Dr. Ross says. If you know your date is coming over, give everything a good scrub and throw your sheets in the wash. After they head out, sanitize everything again.

Know your boundaries.

As with all sexual encounters, check-in with yourself and your date about your boundaries and comfort levels before getting it on. Dr. Bhuyan shares that it's extra important for higher-risk people, (immunocompromised people, people with kidney disease, etc.) to take precautions and to limit their exposure to the virus. You don't need to feel pressure to do anything you're not totally comfortable doing, and you can always tell your date that you'd prefer to keep things digital for a while.

Experts:

Dr Sherry A. Ross, women’s health expert, author of She-ology, The She-quel, and of She-ology hormonal supplements

Dr. Natasha Bhuyan, One Medical provider and regional director