Can you get COVID-19 from sex?
Answer From Daniel C. DeSimone, M.D.
All close contact (within 6 feet or 2 meters) with an infected person can expose you to the virus that causes 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. However, the risk of infection through contact with contaminated surfaces is low.
The COVID-19 virus can spread through contact with feces. It's possible that you could get the COVID-19 virus from sexual activities that expose you to fecal matter.
There is currently no evidence that the COVID-19 virus 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 the COVID-19 virus could be transmitted sexually.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends getting vaccinated against COVID-19. Also stay up to date with the COVID-19 vaccines to prevent serious illness. If you are vaccinated, it's likely safe for you to have sex and close physical contact with a partner who also is vaccinated. You're considered fully vaccinated two weeks after you get a second dose of an mRNA COVID-19 vaccine or two weeks after you get a single dose of the Janssen/Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine. You're considered up to date with your vaccines if you have gotten all recommended COVID-19 vaccines, including booster doses, when you become eligible.
However, even if you're up to date with your vaccines, you may need to take steps to reduce your risk of infection from the COVID-19 virus in certain instances. You can also take steps to reduce the risk of spreading it to others. For example, if you or your partner isn't feeling well or you 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 check with your health care provider about ways to protect yourself.
It's safer to have sex with a partner who is vaccinated and lives with you. If you and your partner don't live in the same household, and if either of you hasn't had a COVID-19 vaccine or isn't up to date with the vaccines, continue avoiding close contact — including sexual contact.
If you aren't up to date with your COVID-19 vaccines, masturbation is a safe type of sexual activity during the COVID-19 pandemic. 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. Choose outdoor and well-ventilated places for a date. Stroll around town, enjoy a hike together, or try outdoor dining. Avoid crowded public spaces. You can also share music you enjoy, write letters to one another or dress up for each other. Be creative.
If you are unvaccinated and sexually active with someone outside of your household, consider these precautions to reduce your risk of getting the COVID-19 virus:
- 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.
March 30, 2022
Daniel C. DeSimone, M.D.
See more Expert Answers
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- COVID-19/new coronavirus. Planned Parenthood. https://www.plannedparenthood.org/learn/health-and-wellness/covid-19-new-coronavirus. Accessed March 16, 2022.
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