With the emphasis on physical distancing these days, we are adapting to new ways of working, socializing and connecting. In the recent weeks, I have received many questions about intimacy, dating and sex. Whether you find yourself spending a lot more time with your partner, or you’re single and would like to explore dating in the physical distancing era, here are some tips for navigating intimacy during these challenging times:
1. First, consider these new realities
We all respond differently to stress and uncertainty. While some may use sex and intimacy as a way to connect and relieve stress, others may notice a reduction in their libido and find that intimacy is the last thing on their minds. Both of these responses are completely normal. It is critical that you have an open and honest discussion with your partner about their interest and comfort level before engaging in any intimate activity.
It’s also important to remember that COVID-19 can be transmitted via respiratory droplets from close contact with an infected person, as well as by touching a surface that has the virus on it and subsequently touching your face. Currently, we do not have evidence to suggest that the virus can be found in semen or vaginal fluids. There is some evidence, however, that the virus can be found in saliva or feces.
There is still a lot that we do not know about the virus and our understanding of it continues to evolve. The following suggestions for single and partnered individuals are based on our current knowledge, which may change over time.
2. If you're single and looking to explore romantic opportunities
Physical distancing has meant that bars, restaurants, theatres, fitness facilities and any large gathering places are closed. So, unless you have managed to master the art of dating in the grocery store line, six or seven feet apart, while wearing your homemade mask, in-person dating presents a unique challenge these days.
If you are single and would like to pursue dating, consider going online. If you have found someone you are interested in and would like to go on a date, consider going on a virtual one. Have a coffee via video chat, try cooking “together” while in your separate kitchens, share a virtual meal or play an online game. Engage in phone conversations like we used to do before texting became our dominant method of communication, and use this opportunity to get to know each other better.
Following physical distancing guidelines means that you are keeping at least two meters apart from those who you do not live with. If you and your new partner would like to explore the sexual side of your relationship, there are other ways to do so while maintaining your distance.
3. If you're partnered and not living together
If you are in a relationship and living apart or you have an intimate partner who does not live with you, it’s important to follow physical distancing guidelines despite its real challenges. Consider using this time as an opportunity to focus on nurturing the emotional intimacy in your relationship — focusing on each other’s needs and dreams, and supporting each other during this unprecedented time in your lives.
There are also other ways you can engage in intimate expression in your relationship while maintaining your distance. Keep in mind that you are your own safest sexual partner. Masturbation does not increase your risk of exposure to the COVID-19 virus.
If both parties are interested, comfortable and consent to it, explore incorporating technology into your sex life. Be mindful of risks associated with security and confidentiality with the use of technology and only proceed with what you are comfortable with. Fantasize, allow your imagination to guide you, and use the anticipation to your advantage. Remind yourself that the more diligent we are with physical distancing, the sooner we can tackle the pandemic.
4. If you're partnered and living together
If you and your intimate partner live together, already share a bed and show no signs or symptoms of illness, your risk of exposure is unlikely to change if you engage in intimate activity. It is recommended that you continue to engage in dilligent hand washing and wash any sex toys used with soap and water for at least 20 seconds before and after use.
If you or your partner who you live with fall within a high-risk group (for example, a healthcare worker or someone with a high exposure to the public), the decision and level of risk you are comfortable with is up to you. There is evidence that individuals may carry the virus before they show symptoms, or may not show symptoms at all. Therefore, it is possible that engaging in close contact and intimacy will spread the virus. There are currently no specific guidelines on this, so it depends on you and your partner’s comfort, risk tolerance and boundaries.