Austin Women's Health Center Blog&Inspiration

Let’s Talk Safe Sex During COVID-19

April 28, 2020
safe sex during COVID

Since the pandemic rapidly spread through our communities, preventative measures have been necessary in order to protect our own health and the health of those we know or love. Practicing safe sex was already necessary before for protection against STDs and preventing pregnancy, but since COVID-19 transmits through saliva and has been found in feces, it’s important to learn about the additional guidelines that have been recommended. Below are some tips from the NYC Health Department and other professionals on what to keep in mind. Without further ado, let’s talk about safe sex during COVID-19!


Understand How COVID-19 Spreads


Coronavirus is a respiratory illness, so it spreads through respiratory droplets and can be transmitted from someone carrying the illness who coughs or sneezes from 6 feet away, even if they aren’t showing symptoms! While the virus hasn’t yet been found in semen or vaginal fluid, it has been found in feces. This means COVID-19 can transmit through other direct contact we have with other people’s saliva, mucus, or feces — like during sex and kissing — so limiting contact to yourself, those you live with, or virtually are among the ways you can practice safe sex during COVID! 


According to the NYC Health Department, other coronaviruses “do not efficiently transmit through sex,” but there’s still a lot to learn regarding safe sex and COVID.


Right Now, Sex With Yourself is The Safest Type of Sex


Because COVID-19 can transmit through saliva, mucus, and feces, self-pleasure (after washing your hands) is the safest way to protect yourself from coronavirus among the pandemic. Masturbation won’t cause you to spread the virus, either, but it’s important to still practice good hand-washing (with soap for at least 20 seconds) after. 


Using sex toys? It’s recommended to still wash sex toys with soap and water, too. If you’re new to using them, or just looking for additional ways to self-pleasure, you can read a list of recommendations here


While masturbation has long been culturally stigmatized, there’s nothing wrong with doing it, and there are so many benefits to this form of self-pleasure — like releasing endorphins which help combat stress, improving sleep, alleviating cramps during menstrual cycles, and the opportunity to explore and learn more about our own bodies and what we like. If you’re new to masturbating, or want to learn more about it, check out this guide


Limit In-Person Sex to Those You Live With 


Limiting in-person sex to those we live with lowers your chance of contracting the virus, and it helps reduce the chance of spreading of it, too. Two people who live together may decide having sex is worth the risk of possible infection, as the chance of one contracting COVID-19 if the other has it is already likely — but for those who are immunocompromised, the risk might not be worth the possible serious complications that can arise from the virus. 


If you do have sex with people you don’t live with, it’s recommended to limit the number to as few as possible. You can protect yourself with consenting partners further by still using condoms or dental dams (latex or polyurethane sheets used between the mouth and vagina or anus during oral sex), both which can reduce the risk of transmission of COVID-19 (and STDs!). 


Many sexual health and family planning clinics — especially those participating in the federal grant program Title X — provide condoms for free on a walk-in basis. But because of the pandemic, clinics may be limiting walk-in services to follow social-distancing guidelines, and it’s a good idea to call and ask what services they are currently providing, and if you need to make an appointment instead. Most grocery and drug stores sell condoms, and you may be able to find dental dams there, too. But if you want to limit the amount of in-person contact you have with the public, you can get free condoms sent directly to you from Texas Wears Condoms by clicking here, and Amazon sells dental dams online at various costs. And make sure to check the expiration date!


Video Dating? Sexting? Some Tips on Consent and Boundaries 


Self-isolation as a result of COVID-19 means the way dating looks has changed for all of us. Some were starting relationships as soon as the pandemic happened and may be looking for ways to maintain intimacy, and others whose source of income comes from sex work may be experiencing changes in the type of contact they normally have. Whatever the situation, if you’re looking to interact with others over video or phone, it can be helpful to set boundaries that you’re comfortable with from the beginning. 


Irma Garcia, sex educator and client services manager at Jane’s Due Process, told viewers in one of their Instagram live videos last week that when video dating or sexting, boundaries are individual and could mean things like limiting sound for privacy, not showing genitals on screen, or deciding whether or not to use sex toys. Consistent and open communication with mutual understanding helps ensure you’re both on the same page and that sex is consensual — whether in person, on video, or through sexting. 


In an article about sexting, Glamour shared that unless you already have an established relationship that works for both of you, it’s important to ask others for consent beforehand because they may not be in the same headspace as you. Communicate what you’d like from your partners, and be cautious of sending videos or photos with identifying details that could potentially be shared without your consent later. And if you’re under 18, legally this isn’t an option — even if both parties are under 18 — because it can be considered child pornography. 


Accessing Birth Control or STD Testing During COVID-19


Birth control is essential healthcare, and while some clinics may be experiencing changes in operations, access to the full spectrum of methods can still be possible. If you’ve already established care with a doctor, they may be able to offer you services over the internet and phone through telemedicine. If you haven’t established care, they may want to assess your care in person first. Contraceptive methods like pills, the patch, the Depo shot, or Nuvaring may be accessible through telemedicine, but long-acting reversible contraception (like IUDs and the Implant) would require an in-person visit for insertion. 


People who are uninsured or struggling financially as a result of COVID-19 can seek both birth control (including emergency contraception, pills, IUDs, and more) and STD testing at a Title X clinic. Health clinics participating in the federal grant program Title X are required to provide these services to anyone regardless of age or how much money they have — which means teens from the ages of 14-18 can receive confidential services without telling their parents, too. Find your closest one by clicking here


Dr. Wu, a family medicine physician in New Hampshire and Physicians for Reproductive Health fellow, told Rewire.News that if you’re high risk and using contraception to treat a medical condition or prevent a high-risk pregnancy, it’s a good idea to have at least three months of supply on hand during quarantine — and some doctors at health clinics have been extending prescriptions without in-person visits. 


Nurx can also provide a consultation for contraception online for $30, and will later send a prescription for some methods directly to your pharmacy if you’re eligible. Emergency contraception can be purchased at most grocery and drug stores, but generic versions can be obtained through Amazon by searching for “My Choice” or “My Way.” To learn more about accessing emergency contraception during the pandemic, visit our guide for tips. 


What If I Need an Abortion? 


After weeks of our government playing games with our reproductive lives during a public health crisis, abortion can legally resume in Texas following the order which banned it expiring on April 21st. Abortion in Texas is legal until 20 weeks into pregnancy (22 weeks if based off last menstrual period), but medication abortions are restricted to 10 weeks by the FDA. For financial assistance, ask to be screened when you visit our clinic and call The Lilith Fund for Reproductive Equity Monday-Friday from 7-10 am at 1-877-659-4304 (Español: 1-877-355-1461)


Austin Women’s Health Center is hopeful that delays or canceled appointments will come to an end quickly, as we believe every person has a right to access the time-sensitive and essential healthcare they need — especially during a pandemic. 


You can contact our office Monday-Friday from 8 am-4 pm to schedule a consultation for a medical or surgical abortion, but we want you to be aware that because of the impacts spanning over the course of the last four weeks, you may experience a delay in your abortion appointment. We’re doing everything we can to undo the damage caused by Governor Greg Abbott and Attorney General Ken Paxton, and we’re so appreciative that you’re trusting us with your care. In the meantime, please remember to stay safe and practice safe sex during COVID!