Can you get coronavirus from sex?
Answer From William F. Marshall, III M.D.
All close contact (within 6 feet or 2 meters) with an infected person can expose you to coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) — whether you're engaged in sexual activity or not.
The virus spreads by respiratory droplets released when someone with the virus coughs, sneezes or talks. These droplets can be inhaled or land in the mouth or nose of a person nearby. Coming into contact with a person's spit through kissing or other sexual activities could expose you to the virus. People who have COVID-19 could also spread respiratory droplets onto their skin and personal belongings. A sexual partner could get the virus by touching these surfaces and then touching his or her mouth, nose or eyes. In addition, COVID-19 can spread through contact with feces. It's possible that you could get COVID-19 from sexual activities that expose you to fecal matter.
There is currently no evidence that COVID-19 is transmitted through semen or vaginal fluids, but the virus has been detected in the semen of people who have or are recovering from the virus. Further research is needed to determine if COVID-19 could be transmitted sexually.
Since some people who have COVID-19 show no symptoms, it's important to keep distance between yourself and others if COVID-19 is spreading in your community. This includes avoiding sexual contact with anybody who doesn't live with you. If you or your partner isn't feeling well or think you might have COVID-19, don't kiss or have sex with each other until you're both feeling better. Also, if you or your partner is at higher risk of serious illness with COVID-19 due to an existing chronic condition, you might want to avoid sex.
The safest type of sexual activity during the COVID-19 pandemic is masturbation. Be sure to wash your hands and any sex toys used, both before and after masturbating. You might also consider engaging in sexual activity with partners via text, photos or videos, ideally using an encrypted platform to provide privacy protection.
Beyond sex, there are other ways to create or maintain intimacy with a partner at a distance. Go on virtual dates together, share music you enjoy, write letters to one another or dress up for each other. Be creative.
If you are sexually active with someone outside of your household, consider these precautions to reduce your risk of getting COVID-19:
- Minimize the number of sexual partners you have.
- Avoid sex partners who have symptoms of COVID-19.
- Avoid kissing.
- Avoid sexual behaviors that have a risk of fecal-oral transmission or that involve semen or urine.
- Use condoms and dental dams during oral and anal sex.
- Wear a mask during sexual activity.
- Wash your hands and shower before and after sexual activity.
- Wash sex toys before and after using them.
- Use soap or alcohol wipes to clean the area where you have sexual activity.
May 20, 2020
William F. Marshall, III M.D.
See more Expert Answers
- Turban JL, et al. Sexual health in the SARS-CoV-2 era. Annals of Internal Medicine. 2020; doi:10.7326/M20-2004.
- COVID-19 and your sexual health. Planned Parenthood. https://www.plannedparenthood.org/learn/health-and-wellness/covid-19-new-coronavirus/covid-19-and-your-sexual-health. Accessed May 8, 2020.
- Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19): How to protect yourself & others. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/prevent-getting-sick/prevention.html. Accessed May 8, 2020.
- COVID-19 and your sexual health. Fenway Health. https://fenwayhealth.org/fenway-health-releases-guide-to-covid-19-and-your-sexual-health/. Accessed May 11, 2020.
- Li D, et al. Clinical characteristics and results of semen tests among men with coronavirus disease 2019. JAMA Network Open. 2020; doi:10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2020.8292.