How to be intimate during the Covid-19 outbreak

6:24 pm on 22 April 2020

Opinion - Within the rapidly-changing landscape of the Covid-19 pandemic, physical distancing is fast-becoming the new normal. Melody Thomas asks: what does that mean for our sex lives?

Caucasian couple hugging on sofa

Intimacy may not be entirely off the table, depending on your circumstances. Photo: shaidyadmin

For a month now, in an effort to slow the spread of coronavirus and protect those most vulnerable to it, Kiwis have been asked not to get too close to each other.

Warning: Contains sexual references

* This advice is not for everyone. If you're dealing with the effects of sexual abuse and assault, here is a list of support services

Specifically, to stay home as much as possible and when you must go out to maintain a 2 metre distance from anyone else.

I don't know how you have sex, but I'm guessing the 2 metre thing rules it out.

With the announcement on Monday that New Zealand will move to alert level 3 at 11:59pm on Monday April 27, many Kiwis will be looking forward to redirecting their latent thirst from authority figures competently doing their jobs, to actual humans in their social circles.

But under the level 3 guidelines, we are still being asked only to extend our bubbles "to reconnect with close family/whānau, or bring in caregivers, or support isolated people".

We're sorry to be the ones to say it - but if your sexual partner/s isn't already in your bubble, you're going to need to wait a little longer to get it on.

Here are the guidelines for sexual intimacy during levels 3 and 4 of lockdown:

If you're not living with a sexual partner

Sex, kissing or sexual contact with anyone outside of your household is not permitted. I don't care how good the sex is, it's not essential, and - let's face it - probably not good enough to risk a police escort home for (aka the only truly shameful walk of shame).

If that isn't enough to curb your impulses, here are the risks you face personally.

While there's currently no evidence that Covid-19 is sexually transmitted, we do know that the virus spreads via droplets of saliva as well as from contact with contaminated surfaces. Even if you attempt to have sex without kissing, saliva has a way of spreading around.

What if the other person is carrying the virus, gets carried away and touches your face? What if they sneeze or cough? Covid-19 remains viable for up to four hours on copper, up to 24 hours on cardboard, and up to two to three days on stainless steel.

Is the sex really worth the deep clean you're going to have to do afterwards?

I know what you're thinking - you're young and healthy. Even if you get coronavirus you'll likely survive it. Remember - coronavirus symptoms can take 2-10 days to show, an infected person can be contagious well before they ever realise it, significantly increasing the chances of passing it on to someone else. With many making moves to extend their bubbles to include whānau and those who are vulnerable, there's actually a case to be made for increased vigilance under alert level 3.

If the thirst is getting overwhelming, think of your grandparents. That ought to slow things down.

If and when the alert level steps down to 1 or 2, sexual intimacy with those outside of your bubble will likely get the go ahead (we'll update this guide if so). But there are a few precautions to keep in mind even then:

Keep your number of partners to a minimum, don't get intimate if either of you are sick, wash both your hands and any sex toys carefully before and after sex, and depending on the threat-level you may want to avoid kissing and rimming (mouth on anus), as there is evidence of oral-faecal transmission of the virus.

It would also pay to avoid the people on Tinder trying to get you to break lockdown for a hook up like the plague. Because that's what they will give you.

(*Skim ahead for ideas on how to get intimate at level 3 without putting yourself at risk)

If you live with your sexual partner/s

In the current climate sexual intimacy, even with a live-in partner, is still a bit risky, as family homes can be one of the biggest hot spots of infectious disease transmission (especially if one of both of you are considered an essential worker). But avoiding physical contact within the home is incredibly difficult, and for many intimate touch is an important part of mental wellbeing.

There are ways to help mitigate the risk: go hard on the hand washing, especially when returning from outside, keep surfaces spotless and avoid touching faces, for one.

It's also worth having a good conversation with your significant other/s to ensure they're keeping up these practices outside the house - especially when it comes to maintaining distance from other people.

It should also go without saying that if your sexual partner is over 70 years old or immune-compromised, and you're not self-isolating alongside them, then you need to explore other ways to be intimate for the time being.

Finally! For you single hornbags who've spotted the "no sex with people outside of your house" loophole and are now considering hooking up with a flatmate: yes, it is safer than sex with a random, but it could make things very awkward at home (aka the only place you're allowed to be atm). This one's entirely up to you but if you do go there, make sure they're not sleeping with anyone outside of the house.

What you can do

Just because you can't have sex with someone else, that doesn't mean that you can't experience many of the same benefits that sex gives you.

The New York City Health Department put it beautifully when they said: "You are your safest sexual partner". You read that correctly: state-mandated masturbation. What a time to be alive!

Touching yourself will not spread Covid-19 (especially if you're washing your hands and sex toys properly), but it is likely to help relieve pent-up stress, assist better sleep, help you get to know your own body better and boost your mood, stuff we're all desperately in need of at the moment. And if you've got a decent internet connection, you can do it with a friend.

You can send sexts and nudes (solicited) and talk for hours on the phone like you did when you were a teenager - all the good stuff that was already hot and fun before, but is now even hotter because you're not allowed to touch each other.

It's also important to remember that while sexual and physical forms of intimacy are limited at the moment, emotional intimacy certainly isn't. Organise a potluck with your mates over Zoom from your individual houses. Call your grandparents. Message your crush and let the long, lingering chats begin (or else ride out the embarrassment of rejection in the safety of your own home).

One last thing: this pandemic is a truly terrible thing to witness, but there are opportunities in the slower pace of life we're being asked to live, not least a little time for reflection. Maybe you have exactly the empowered, sex-positive sex life you want - in which case, brilliant. But maybe you don't.

Could it be helpful to look at the kind of sex and relationships you're having, and to think about how they differ from what you want? What is in your power to change? How you might go about making those changes?*

To summarise: don't get it on with people outside of your household, think carefully before you bang your flatmate, masturbation and technology are your friends. Be safe out there.

* Editor's note: This situation is evolving rapidly. Please follow official guidance regarding physical distancing and isolation.

* Melody Thomas is the creator of RNZ sex and sexuality podcast BANG!, sometime-presenter for Music 101, and a writer for various print and online media.

  • If you have symptoms of the coronavirus, call the NZ Covid-19 Healthline on 0800 358 5453 (+64 9 358 5453 for international SIMs)

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