Dating in quarantine can feel like an abstinence-only crash course straight out of Mean Girls. When you're a vigilant mask-wearer and taking social distancing seriously, it can be hard to think about what kissing will look like post-pandemic. Has the smooch ship sailed away forever? Will you ever kiss again?!
Rest assured, my snogging starfish, Natasha Bhuyan, MD, One Medical family provider, and Regional Medical Director, says that it's possible to stay protected while getting passionate.
"The pandemic does not mean the end of kissing," Dr. Bhuyan tells Bustle. "Instead, it’s important to be safe about how we approach kissing, just like we do with any other behaviors during the pandemic."
Like wearing a mask at the grocery store or opting for take-out, kissing amid a pandemic requires taking extra precautions. If you're gearing up for a Hinge date or meeting up with a long-time boo, here's what to keep in mind when you want to makeout.
1. Think about who you're kissing.
"Knowing the risk factors of the person you are kissing can lower your risk of contracting COVID-19," Dr. Bhuyan says. "Are they staying at home? Do they wear a mask? Have they avoided crowds? All of these factor in."
According to Dr. Jessica A. Shepherd, M.D., OB/GYN, it can help think about risk factors in terms of levels or brackets. Whereas your long-term hookup who lives alone and works remotely is likely in the "safe" bracket, a Tinder rando going to parties and bars and not wearing a mask is likely in the "caution" bracket.
"The real question is who you’re kissing," Dr. Shepherd says. "We have the responsibility of placing people in the appropriate risk bracket. From there, you take on the caution as a responsible human."
While you can (consensually) kiss anyone you want to, Dr. Shepherd stresses the importance of understanding your date's risk factor.
"You start to take more risk when you don't know the person and don't know what they've been exposed to," Dr. Shepherd says. "You need to take precautions and assume that risk."
2. Directly communicate about your risk factors.
Asking your date about possible COVID-19 exposure might not look like the flirty banter you see in rom-com. But Dr. Shepherd says that talking about the virus before kissing can be similar to asking about STI status or using protection during sex.
"We need to be OK with sharing our risk of exposure to protect other people," Dr. Shepherd says. "To say, 'I was exposed, and here's what I want you to know,' then let the other person decide how they want to take it on."
And if your roommate tested positive or you started showing symptoms, being clear about your risk levels keeps you both protected. "This a time to learn some great lessons about how to communicate with other people," Dr. Shepherd says. "Not make it scary, but still be responsible to the other person."
Dr. Bhuyan echoes the importance of transparency between your roommates and friends as well. "If you end up kissing someone who you later find out has COVID-19, you should notify any close contacts that you are undergoing testing for potential exposure," Dr. Bhuyan says.
3. Accept that physical intimacy comes with inherent risk.
Similar to how having sex with someone new can come with the risk of contracting an STI, kissing during the coronavirus comes with some risk of contracting it. "At some point, everyone is assuming risk," Dr. Shepherd says. "There is risk involved with intimacy, especially when it comes to a virus and how you contract the virus."
Like human papillomavirus (HPV) or the chickenpox, Dr. Shepherd says coronavirus isn't going to disappear suddenly. Although you never need to do anything that you're not comfortable with, being informed and communicative about your status can help you embrace intimacy in these stressful times.
"This isn't the end of the world, Dr. Shepherd says. "Once the virus becomes a part of society and who we are and how we function, it boils down to risk, understanding that risk, and then placing people in the appropriate risk bracket."
4. Remember that intimacy is *really* important.
After months of quarantine, you're probably craving human touch and connection, but it's good to be cautious when it comes to coronavirus. Dr. Shepherd and Dr. Bhuyan both emphasize the benefits of physical affection, especially during intense times. "Like other forms of touch or physical affection, kissing has many mental health benefits, including lowering stress," Dr. Bhuyan says.
Because intimacy is so important, Dr. Shepherd suggests that you and your date find a realistic balance between steam and safety.
"Intimacy is a critical part of who are as humans and how we connect with others," Dr. Shepherd tells Bustle. "The takeaway is, "How can I live my life in a way that doesn't take away things that are vital to who we are, while also understanding safety?'"
5. Find non-physical ways to connect.
If you and your date feel safer from six feet away, there are ways to communicate the feelings and intentions of kissing without literally locking lips.
Patti Wood, body language expert and author of SNAP: Making the Most of First Impressions Body Language and Charisma, suggests holding eye contact with your date — something you can even do while wearing a mask. "Try long, lingering eye contact," Wood tells Bustle. "It says, 'I desire you.'"
In addition to staring into your date's eyes, Wood suggests "symbolic touching" or turning your body toward your date and motioning as if you are reaching them, without actually touching. "When you're highly attracted to someone, you tend to aim at the person you want to kiss, your feet, knees, and heart turn towards them," Wood tells Bustle. "This shows that they are important, that they are with you, and that you are together."
Natasha Bhuyan, MD, One Medical family provider, and Regional Medical Director
Patti Wood, body language expert and author of 'SNAP: Making the Most of First Impressions Body Language and Charisma'