How to Navigate Safe Sex in the 6-Feet-Apart Era
Ask a Doctor is PEOPLE’s series getting you the answers to the medical, health and personal questions that you always wanted to know but weren’t sure who to ask.
Whether you’re single or coupled up, there’s no doubt that the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has changed the way you think about “safe sex.” In addition to the usual physical and emotional factors, there’s now a highly contagious virus to consider. But, like dating, the pandemic doesn’t mean you have to put your sex life entirely on pause.
“Sexuality is a good thing, not a bad thing. We want people to maintain relationships as best as possible with other human beings,” says Dr. Mary Jane Minkin, a board-certified OB/GYN at Yale University School of Medicine and member of PEOPLE’s Health Squad. Still, she admits, “It's a little tricky at this time.”
Tricky, yes, but absolutely possible. No matter your partner — new, live-in or, ahem, handheld — we have doctor-approved recommendations to keep things sexy during a decidedly unsexy time.
If You’re Single
Again, sex is not off the table, but weighing risk vs. reward has never been more important — especially if it’s with a new person in your life. “You have to be fully cognizant of the risks involved,” says Minkin. “If you're going to have sex with somebody, you are acknowledging that you are exposing yourself to whatever they have come in contact with.”
If your partner doesn't have COVID-19, observes safe social distancing measures, wears a face mask and doesn’t have additional sexual partners, you’re (relatively) safe to get busy. On the other hand, “If it's somebody who's going out all the time, not wearing a mask and not observing social distancing, this person is at risk for COVID,” says Minkin. And, because it bears repeating, “you're exposing yourself to the risks this person is exposing him or herself to.”
Although Minkin says this may be particularly relevant for college students and younger people, COVID is a risk for all ages. And now’s not the time to get lazy about other safe-sex measures either. “Just because you're practicing good COVID safety doesn't necessarily mean you're practicing good safe sex, which we should be doing all the time anyway,” reminds Minkin.
If You’re in a Relationship
For couples who don’t live together, the above advice still applies — their risk equals your risk. If, after weighing the risk factors, you want to keep things spicy remotely (or if you're in a long-distance relationship while air travel is off the table), consider the sexy FaceTime or Zoom date.
“If you are not going to be able to have sex with somebody, that doesn't mean you can't maintain a good relationship with that person,” says Minkin. While video dates may not be a replacement for the real thing, they can keep you satisfied until that day arrives. "Hopefully, once this craziness resolves, you can then resume a good personal physical relationship," says Minkin.
For couples who do live together, sex can be a good way to reconnect with your partner (and pass the time!). If you live together and share a space, Minkin sees no reason to halt your sex life — with one big caveat. “I think there are different gradations to what risk people are exposed to,” Minkin says, adding that essential workers and anyone else “high risk” should add extra protocols that they feel comfortable with.
If You Want to Be Safe ... and Satisfied
Various states have released guidelines to help people navigate sex right now, including New York State’s “Safer Sex and COVID-19” document, which stresses that “you are your safest sex partner.” Minkin agrees, stating “there is nothing [sex-wise] that's totally safe involving another person.”
People are clearly heeding that advice, with vibrator sales skyrocketing in recent months. At sexual wellness e-commerce site Dame, for instance, overall sales are up 82 percent in July and August 2020 compared to the same time period in 2019. Interested in having the safest possible sex? Dame shared three of their top sellers, below.
You can't go wrong with a three-speed, water-resistant classic bullet vibrator. Buy it! The Zee, $30; dameproducts.com
This hands-free vibrator can be used solo or as a couple. Buy it! The Eva II, $135; dameproducts.com
This flexible, palm-shaped toy conforms to the body and offers five different patterns and speeds. Buy it! The Pom, $95; dameproducts.com