Amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, safe sex practices are as important as other measures to prevent infection. Little focus has been given to sexual health, but a new study highlights how couples can reduce the transmission of the novel coronavirus.
The study, published in the journal Annals of Internal Medicine, sheds light and recommends safe sex practices for couples to reduce the risk of SARS-CoV-2 (severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2) transmission.
Novel coronavirus transmission
SARS-CoV-2 is present in respiratory secretions and can spread through aerosolized particles. It can remain stable on surfaces for days. The study highpoints that all types of in-person sexual activity may carry the risk for coronavirus transmission.
The team noted that most transmissions occur from asymptomatic carriers or those who do not manifest any symptom of the infection. Infected people have the potential to spread respiratory secretions on their skin and personal objects, which can be transmitted to a sexual partner.
Further, previous studies have shown that "silent shedders" or those who are asymptomatic can spread the virus when breathing or talking.
The team also suggested that couples who are not quarantining together should not kiss on the mouth. The guide also explains that there is still some risk for people who have intercourse with partners with whom they are quarantining. They can still contract the virus from another household member.
In couples who are quarantined together, they should be counseled to have sex only with one partner. However, they should be warned that there is a risk of transmission if the sex partner has been exposed while outside the home.
Health experts urged couples to wear face masks during sexual intercourse to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus.
The study highlighted the importance of universal masking, not just in public places, but also during sexual intercourse.
The researchers at Harvard University said that sexual health implications had received little focus in the growing pandemic, which has so far infected more than 6.63 million people across the globe.
The study findings show that masks are recommended when having sex with people other than those with who they are quarantined with.
"On the basis of existing data, it appears all forms of in-person sexual contact carry a risk for viral transmission because aerosols and fomites readily transmit the virus. This fact has resulted in broad guidance regarding physical distancing, with substantial implications for sexual well-being," the researchers wrote in the paper.
"Given the important role of sexuality in most people's lives, health care providers (HCPs) should consider counseling patients on this topic whenever possible," they added.
In conclusion, the study suggested that couples should keep their masks on, avoid kissing, oral sex, and other practices that involve urine, sexual fluid, and saliva. Also, people should shower before and after, and clean the surface used with alcoholic wipes.
The study also underlined alternative practices that couples can engage with during the pandemic. A range of sexual practices can be recommended to couples, including abstinence and masturbation. Abstinence is the lowest-risk approach to sexual health amid the coronavirus global health threat. Meanwhile, masturbation is another safe recommendation for patients to meet their sexual needs.
Health care practitioners should counsel couples on the use of the internet and digital platforms as these have potential legal consequences. Further, minors should be warned against online sex predation.
An antibody test may be used
The team suggested that antibody testing or serological testing may play a role in evaluating sexual risk. This test will see if the person has been exposed to the virus in the past. Though there is still lacking data on how long such immunity may last, those who test positive with the SARS-CoV-2 antibody test could have relative immunity to the virus.
"This may allow for the serosorting of individuals for sexual activity, with those testing positive for anti–SARSCoV-2 antibodies presumed safe to engage in sex together concerning SARS-CoV-2 transmission, if not for HIV or other sexually transmitted infections," the team said.
The study may help guide couples in safe sexual practices during the global health crisis. It can also prevent the spread of the virus that has now claimed more than 391,000 lives.
"As we continue to fight the pandemic, researchers and HCPs ought to keep human sexuality in mind as an important aspect of health and counsel patients whenever possible. Public health officials must continue to disseminate accurate sexual health information. We need to collect more data on the risks related to SARS-CoV-2 transmission through intimate contact, best practices in sexual counseling, and optimal approaches for risk reduction," the researchers concluded in the study.