You Can (Still) Do It: Self-Care and Sex in a Pandemic

During a pandemic, “safer sex” takes on additional meanings. The hard truth is that a year later, COVID-19 is still here and may be getting more contagious — so it’s more important than ever to take actions that care for yourself and your partner(s).

Safer sex is self-care.

When the world is more stressful than usual, taking care of yourself is extra-important. Intimacy and sex can be important parts of a healthy life. There is power in orgasms! They can help reduce stress, improve sleep, relieve menstrual cramps and muscle tension, and make you feel good — all of which are especially helpful during challenging times like these. With COVID-19 running rampant, keeping things sexy while playing it safe can get a little tricky… or require a new bag of tricks.

Right now and always, the safest person to have sex with is — drumroll please — yourself. You can spice things up solo with toys or use your hands, without worrying about spreading coronavirus or any other infections. Just be sure to wash whatever toys you use with soap and water — beforehand and afterwards — to prevent infections.

The next safest option for sexy times are partners that already live with you. Whether you’re coupled, throupled, or friends-with-benefitting it, continue to have conversations with your partners about STIs, getting tested, and using protection, like condoms and dental dams. These barrier methods can prevent STIs, giving you one less thing to worry about so that you can focus more on the fun.

Creativity is sexy.

It may take a bit of thinking outside of the pre-pandemic box to keep things steamy this Valentine’s Day, especially if your partner doesn’t live with you. Never fear — there are tons of creative ways to enjoy sex and intimacy at a physical distance.

First things first: Spend time with your partners so you can understand your love languages, or how you both prefer to give and receive affection — some people may prefer when people do things for them, share kind and affirming words, give them gifts, spend quality time with them, or touch them to feel good. Most people have more than one love language.

Together you can explore how to fill intimacy gaps while preventing both the spread of COVID-19 and sexually transmitted infections (STIs). For instance, a person who enjoys receiving gifts might appreciate a thoughtfully curated playlist from their partner, one that includes some sexy songs. A person who cherishes kind words from their partner may feel more connected after exchanging letters or messages about what they want to do once they can be within six feet of each other. Quality time might look like a virtual date — watching a movie together over video, cooking together through your screens, playing a video game or online board game, video chatting over coffee or a meal, or listening to an album or playlist together.

If you and your partner are consenting adults who agree to respect each other’s boundaries and privacy, you can also explore the idea of getting intimate virtually by exchanging sexts, photos, or videos.

The risk of COVID-19 continues to be very real.

Even with physical distancing recommendations, the reality is that some people are still seeking physical connections during the ongoing pandemic. Skin hunger — the need to be touched, hugged, or otherwise physically intimate — is real and can be a critical part of our social and emotional wellbeing. Humans are social beings and pandemic fatigue is weighing on all of us.

That being said, the risk of COVID-19 is also real. While there is little evidence showing that the new coronavirus can be transmitted through sex, being in any close physical contact with any person can pose a threat to your health.

Just as you’d have a conversation about STI testing, condom or barrier use, birth control, and your sexual histories with a partner, you can also talk with a partner who doesn’t live with you about COVID-19 precautions. You can discuss risks and comfort levels before deciding if and how to meet up.

Consider whether both you and your partner have been following public health guidance — like wearing a mask, physically distancing, and washing your hands regularly. Even after having “the COVID-19 talk,” understand that there is no surefire way of knowing whether your partner or those they may come into contact with have been taking precautions. Also, remember that some people do not show any symptoms of COVID-19 but can still spread the virus to others, even if they’ve gotten the vaccine.

You decide how to play it safe.

Juggling your physical health with your physical, social, and emotional needs can be a delicate dance — and it takes on a whole new meaning in a pandemic. No matter how you decide to play it safe, remember that taking care of all aspects of your health matters when it comes to self-care.

Getting tested for STIs and keeping an open line of communication with your partners is just as important now as it has always been. Not sure if you should get tested? You can start with our simple online quiz or read more about testing on our website. You can always get tested for STIs at your doctor’s office, health department, or local Planned Parenthood health center — some health centers offer testing via telehealth, helping you stay safe and healthy during the pandemic. Whether it’s in person or via telehealth, Planned Parenthood is here to help you take care of you, no matter what.

— Dr. Sara C. Flowers, vice president of education and training at Planned Parenthood Federation of America

Hi! We’re America’s most trusted provider of reproductive health care, and we think we look pretty good for nearly 100 years old.

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