With the prospect of months of staying indoors during the coronavirus outbreak, how we form relationships and navigate sex and intimacy will change.
Not everyone lives with a sexual partner, and leaving home to meet up with someone to have sex when they aren’t a member of your household would violate social distancing protocols, said Dr. Vinita Dubey, associate medical officer of health at Toronto Public Health.
“Social distancing means limiting the number of people you come into close contact with,” she told Global News in an email statement. “This also applies to sexual relations with others, especially outside of the household.”
She emphasized this applies to everyone including those who have COVID-19 symptoms or who have the virus. As well, those who have recently travelled and are in quarantine also need to follow these guidelines.
Even if you don’t have symptoms, staying home can be the difference between life or death for another person if you are a carrier of the virus, according to a previous Global News report.
“COVID-19 is spread through respiratory droplets through close contact. Toronto Public Health recommends individuals stay home as much as possible, reduce their interactions with others and do social distancing as a way to minimize COVID-19 transmission in the community,” she said.
Stay connected with others through phone, video or online methods, Dubey said.
A notice about sex and coronavirus from New York City’s public health department went viral this weekend, as it outlined specifically how to enjoy sex while preventing the spread of COVID-19.
“The virus can spread through direct contact with their saliva or mucus,” the notice states. NYC health recommends having sex only with a partner that you live with and no one outside your household.
It also details how to practice safe sex hygiene within the parametres of your home while being mindful of the coronavirus. Even if you live with your partner, you may want to skip sex if anyone has COVID-19 or isn’t feeling well, or if a partner has a medical condition that weakens their immune system.
Masturbation is also a recommended alternative — just be sure to wash your hands. “You are your safest sex partner,” the PSA noted.
How to move physical intimacy online
There needs to be more discussion from public health bodies on how to navigate sex at this time, says Samantha Bitty, a Toronto-based sexual health educator and relationship expert. Abstinence-only messages without providing messaging about online alternatives prevent the public from being truly informed, she said.
“A lot of people are taking this seriously, and a lot of people are not informed or they’re scared or don’t have the tools,” she said, adding that some people are flouting social distancing reminders.
When making the choice to move sex online, it’s important to be educated and informed about how to do so safely, she said.
Know why you want that kind of connection right now, and whether you want it to be casual or not, she said. “What is my intention? Am I looking to fill a void, am I looking to be entertained? Do I actually want to build something?” she said.
Now is a good opportunity to assess your wants and needs, so you can approach engaging with people online in a meaningful way where your intent is clear, she said.
If cybersex is new for you, ease into it and see what’s comfortable for you, she said. You can start with sexting and then send pictures or move to video if you feel ready for that.
Ensure you’ve had a discussion around consent and privacy and decide whether concealing your identity is important to you, especially with sexy photos, she explained.
Ask any potential partner: “what are you into? what are your soft and hard boundaries,” along with asking what they like or what they want, said Bitty.
“When you’re sexting it doesn’t have to be hugely explicit,” said Jess O’Reilly, a Toronto-based relationship expert and host of the @SexWithDrJess podcast. “It can be playful and it can be romantic.”
If you’re sending images, don’t feel pressured to include your face or your entire body. You can wear clothing as well if you prefer, said O’Reilly.
“You might take shots with a selfie stick, or turn the lights down low so you leave something to their imagination,” she said.
“You might want to consider voice notes … for those of us who love the sound of our partner’s voices,” she said.
Other than cybersex, now might be a good time to engage with your own body and appreciate it, even in a non-sexual way, she added.
Regardless, this is a time to be highly communicative with your needs to any kind of partner, including one you live with, she said. Those quarantined with one partner may feel “touched out” and need space sometimes.
“One person cannot meet all your social and emotional needs. It’s time to reach out to support systems … anyone with whom you can connect to digitally,” she said.
Questions about COVID-19? Here are some things you need to know:
Health officials caution against all international travel. Returning travellers are asked to self-isolate for 14 days in case they develop symptoms and to prevent spreading the virus to others.
Symptoms can include fever, cough and difficulty breathing — very similar to a cold or flu. Some people can develop a more severe illness. People most at risk of this include older adults and people with severe chronic medical conditions like heart, lung or kidney disease. If you develop symptoms, contact public health authorities.
To prevent the virus from spreading, experts recommend frequent handwashing and coughing into your sleeve. They also recommend minimizing contact with others, staying home as much as possible and maintaining a distance of two metres from other people if you go out.
For full COVID-19 coverage from Global News, click here.