An expert guide to love and sex during a pandemic

We are all in long-distance relationships now.
Couple holding hands
How to catch feelings, but not coronavirus. Pixabay

Follow all of PopSci’s COVID-19 coverage here, including travel advice, pregnancy concerns, and the latest findings on the virus itself.

Self-quarantine as a single person or a person who lives far from their significant other can be pretty lonely, especially while other folks spend their work-from-home hours snuggled up with the person they love.

Still, it can be unnerving to be so close to someone who might’ve bumped into COVID-19 in the outside world. Considering it takes at least five days for the virus’s symptoms to show up, it’s tough to know if your spooning partner is infected, or if you could be putting them at risk.

Before give up on love or start wearing a hazmat suit whenever you crawl in bed, it’s good to know the basics about love in a time of coronavirus. We asked sexual health expert Carlos Rodriguez-Diaz of George Washington University for advice on how to keep your relationship alive in the middle of an epidemic.

Is COVID-19 sexually transmitted?

Nope, or at least it hasn’t proven to be during the virus’s reproductive stage, says Rodriguez-Diaz. But you can definitely carry it through another way of expressing intimacy that goes right along with having any sort of sex: kissing.

We already know that the coronavirus can be passed between people by coughing. That’s why it’s so important to cover your mouth and wipe down surfaces that might come into contact with saliva. But when it comes to kissing, there’s no avoiding spit, which means if you’re making out with an infected person, you’re putting yourself at risk.

Not to mention, COVID-19 can be spread via the fecal-oral route, so depending on what tickles your sexual fancy, you might want to be extra, extra careful.

So while coronavirus likely doesn’t spread the same way that STIs like chlamydia or herpes do, that doesn’t mean you should go about your business as usual. In this case, the foreplay is the part to be worried about.

What about snuggling?

If you spend each night cuddling your significant other, lucky you. If your partner lives with you or spends a lot of time with you, the reality is that you probably share a similar risk of catching COVID-19, Rodriguez-Diaz says. After all, no matter what you do all day, you both come home and interact closely, whether that’s making dinner together or just chilling on the same couch.

Social distancing calls for staying around six feet away from people. But just because there’s an outbreak doesn’t mean you need to walk around with a pole protecting you from your favorite person.

“It’s not the time to stop cuddling,” Rodriguez-Diaz says. Right now, people are stressed and anxious, and those feelings might only get worse if you close yourself off to interaction with your significant other. Just be conscious that you’re both being hygienic. Wash your hands regularly and keep your living space (and any sex toys) clean.

If your partner gets sick, you should stay home, too. Staying in to care for them will also protect the people you’d interact with outside your home.

What should I do if I’m in a long-distance relationship?

Though flights to most any state and country are cheap as heck right now, you shouldn’t hop on a plane and surprise your partner. Traveling implies bumping into and interacting with loads of other people, Rodriguez-Diaz says, and a lot of time that could be in close quarters.

For the safety of your loved ones, all the people around you, and yourself, you should seriously consider staying put. This is especially true if you or your significant other are older or immunocompromised. As much as it sucks to stay alone all day, it is way worse to unknowingly bring the epidemic with you to another corner of the world.

As all you long-distance-relationship folks already know, in-person sex isn’t the only way to get intimate with your partner. Sexting or video-chatting are practices that are still erotic, Rodriguez-Diaz says, but don’t involve touching at all. Nowadays, there are literally ways to send your partner a mold of your own genitals, so if anything, quarantine is an excuse to get creative.

“I would advise people who are in long-distance relationships to use technology to their advantage,” Rodriguez-Diaz says. “Soon after we have a better understanding of the virus and the epidemic is under control, take a trip together somewhere else.”

Should I stop trying to meet new people?

This one is for all you single powerhouses: you don’t necessarily have to delete all of your dating apps right away. However, it’s wise to take a moment and skip the dinner and movie plans while COVID-19 testing in the US is still a mystery.

“It’s not the ideal conditions to meet new people, or go to public spaces,” Rodriguez-Diaz says.

This doesn’t mean you should meet all your internet crushes in secluded locations (please, don’t do that for obvious reasons). But it also doesn’t mean you need to shut yourself off from the world of dating just because you’re avoiding leaving the home.

When it comes to casual dating, you could always take a page out of the long-distance-relationship book. Whether it’s someone you’ve recently met, or have been dating casually and lives a few neighborhoods away, now could be the time to test out sexting or other not-so-touchy-feely ways of getting to know a possible partner.

“With the proper safety measures in place, that can be very good for relationships,” Rodriguez-Diaz says. “Perhaps this experience is giving us the opportunity to experience other things.”