As the global coronavirus crisis continues, questions about how the disease spreads, and the impact it will have on society as we know it remain.
For people around the globe, the topic of sex and how it relates to the virus has been a subject of concern, with many wondering which, if any, intimate relations are safe.
Fortunately, with researchers continuing to learn more about the virus each day, new information has also emerged about the relationship between sex and coronavirus.
These are five things to know about the disease and sex.
Masturbation is your safest option
In March, the New York Health Department issued a guide to residents regarding physical intimacy, and what people living in the city need to know about staying safe.
According to the guide, “you are your safest sex partner”.
“Masturbation will not spread Covid-19, especially if you wash your hands (and any sex toys) with soap and water for at least 20 seconds before and after sex,” the guide explains.
In addition to keeping the risk of contracting the virus low, masturbation also comes with the added benefits of stress relief, reduced blood pressure, increased self-esteem and reduced pain, previous studies have found.
Sex toy purchases are increasing as a result of the pandemic
With masturbation confirmed to be a safe activity, and millions of people confined to their homes as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, sex toy purchases are increasing, according to multiple reports.
In New Zealand, sex toy sales have tripled as a result of the lockdown, while the Los Angeles Times has reported sales increases of 30 to 100 per cent.
“I think a lot of people are stuck home alone, and there’s people who normally would be having sex with dates, or people who they are not sheltered at home with,” Searah Deysach, the owner of feminist sex shop Early to Bed, told the Chicago Tribune. “So a lot of people are — for stress relief and sexual pleasure and all the other reasons why anyone would masturbate — are finding themselves doing it more on their own, and looking for creative ways to make it a little more fun, more interesting, and take a little strain off our hands and wrists as well.”
Coronavirus may not be transmissible by having sex
According to a new study published in the journal Fertility and Sterility, which analysed semen samples of 34 men in China an average of one month after they tested positive for coronavirus and found no evidence of the virus in the men’s testes or semen, the possibility of contracting coronavirus through sex may be minimal.
“The fact that in this small, preliminary study that it appears the virus that causes Covid-19 doesn't show up in the testes or semen could be an important finding," said study co-author Dr James Hotaling, an associate professor of urology specialising in male fertility at University of Utah Health.
However, the researchers acknowledged that the small study was not enough to rule out the possibility altogether. The study researchers also noted that it is possible that those who experience more severe cases of coronavirus may have a “higher viral load”.
"It could be that a man who is critically ill with Covid-19 might have a higher viral load, which could lead to a greater likelihood of infecting the semen. We just don't have the answer to that right now," Hotaling said.
You can get coronavirus from kissing
While coronavirus may not be spread through sex, that doesn’t mean other physical intimacy is safe - as kissing is likely to spread the respiratory virus.
“The coronavirus is a respiratory virus. It can be transmitted through your saliva and intimate contact,” Mark Surrey, MD, a clinical professor in the department of obstetrics and gynaecology at UCLA’s David Geffen School of Medicine, told Health, adding that coronavirus is “not directly transmitted genitally”.
According to the New York Health Department’s guide, you should “avoid kissing anyone who is not part of your small circle of close contacts”.
The guide also states that, after masturbation, the next safest sex partner is someone you live with.
“Having close contact - including sex - with only a small circle of people helps prevent spreading Covid-19,” the health agency states.
Experts are concerned the pandemic may lead to a spike in STD cases
As the focus remains on social distancing and fighting the spread of coronavirus, health departments are worried that sexually transmitted diseases will spike as a result.
“We are seeing a complete disruption to STD prevention here in the United States,” David Harvey, executive director of the National Coalition of STD Directors (NCSD), told The Hill. “We expect to experience even higher STD rates as a result.”
According to experts, one of the issues has been clinics and public health departments that normally identify and treat cases of STIs or STDs have been closed - or employees have been moved instead to the coronavirus taskforce.
“One of the most important things in the STI world is making sure that you can do open testing hours,” Adriane Casalotti, chief of government and public affairs at the National Association of County and City Health Officials (NACCHO), told The Verge. “If you feel sick or not, you can come in, know your status, and get on your way. You can’t really do that anymore in this world of social distancing.”
While sexual intercourse may not be capable of spreading coronavirus, experts warn people to continue practising safe sex amid the pandemic.