Virtual sex, masturbation, face masks: These are some of the ways you can have safer sex during COVID-19, the BCCDC says

VANCOUVER — This story contains graphic descriptions of sex acts.

Sex hasn’t stopped in the midst of the pandemic, and the B.C. Centre for Disease Control recently updated its COVID-19 guidelines to ensure people to do it safely.

The virus has been found in semen and feces, the BCCDC says, but it’s not clear yet if the virus can be transmitted through sex. The centre advises “you are your safest sex partner.”

The next-safest partners are the person or people you live with, or those who have close contact with you and no one else, the centre’s guidelines say.

Also included in the BCCDC’s guidelines are masturbating by yourself, physically distancing if masturbating with others or engaging in virtual sex.

The centre does caution people about the security risks around sharing intimate photos of themselves or using web cams, and adds some people don’t show their faces or other identifiable body parts for privacy.

The centre recommends people who are dating or having casual sex avoid or limit kissing and the exchange of saliva, and choose positions that limit face-to-to face contact.

Wearing a mask or face covering is also suggested as heavy breathing during sex can generate more droplets that could transmit the virus.

“Having one, or a few, regular sex partner(s) can help lower the chances of being exposed to COVID-19,” the guidelines say.

The BCCDC also emphasizes the importance of communicating with partners about the type of sexual activities you want to engage in, precautions you can take, and if anyone you’re in contact with is immunocompromised.

The centre also suggests thoroughly washing your body and any sex toys with soap and water before and after sex.

Condoms, dental dams and lube can be used to minimize contact with saliva and semen during sex, the centre says.

Dr. Troy Grennan, the lead physician for the HIV/STI program at the BCCDC, says there is already a large amount of stigma and shame around sex, which can prevent people from seeking health-care services.

“Abstinence messaging just doesn’t work. It simply doesn’t work,” he said, adding he, along with other sexual health experts, take a sex-positive approach to sexual health. “Whether it’s intentional or not, I think a lot of abstinence messaging can be harmful because it implicitly has this judgment and shame around it.”

Grennan said from the beginning of the pandemic, health experts quickly realized people were continuing to have sex because it’s an important and necessary part of life for many people.

“So recognizing that, we wanted to provide individuals with tools that would allow them to navigate this safely during COVID,” he said.

One particular recommendation from the BCCDC around the use of barriers and walls during sex generated huge interest on social media this week.

“Use barriers, like walls (e.g., glory holes), that allow for sexual contact but prevent close face-to-face contact,” the guideline says.

Grennan says it’s one example in a list of well-researched recommendations, and it was adapted from the New York City Department of Health’s recommendations around creatively using walls during sex.

While it “makes a good headline,” he says it’s brought attention to the BCCDC’s guidelines, and anything that generates a non-judgmental and non-stigmatizing conversation around sex is a good thing.

“The key is communication,” he said. “One of the things we really need to focus on is providing people an opportunity and making people feel comfortable as much as we can about talking with everyone.”

People are encouraged to talk to their partners openly about sex so that they can make informed and healthy choices. And if you’re feeling sick, you should skip sex, the BCCDC says.

“Especially when it comes to sex, it’s never one size fits all, pun intended,” said Grennan. “There’s many different pieces of advice provided in that resource which hopefully can apply to most people.”

You can read the full list of recommendations on the BCCDC’s website.

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