Sex during outbreaks and pandemics

A note from Dr Mike Hill, LGBT Foundation Trustee

“2 years ago, I spoke about how to keep yourself safe during the COVID-19 pandemic, being mindful of community concerns about sex during the pandemic, we wanted to make sure we used an evidence-based approach that empowers our community with information they needed to manage their sexual health and wellbeing, with an understanding of risks and how they can be reduced.

We recognise the damage that has been done to our community in the past and wanted to take a non-judgemental approach and ensure open discussion about sex during the pandemic.

Like no doubt many of you, we have seen some quite sensationalised reports about the recent outbreak of Monkeypox in the Europe and Northern America and we wanted to ensure that we continued our approach to inform our community about the reality of Monkeypox and empower people to continue to manage their risk during sex from Monkeypox and other infections.

We recognise that opinions vary within all communities and between organisations. Shame and stigma associated with sex has had and continues to have a significant impact on the mental health and wellbeing of our community.

At LGBT Foundation, we will continue our work to support all of the LGBT+ community during the pandemic, including through the non-judgemental sexual health service.

Stay safe. Stay healthy”

Can I have sex during an outbreak?

Sex is usually considered good for mental fitness, physical health and relationships but we understand that some people may prefer to avoid sex during infectious outbreaks, such as Covid-19 or monkeypox.

People living with and in close contact with an infected person may increase the risk of passing on infections. If you live with your sexual partner(s), sex is unlikely to increase that risk. Some people are medically vulnerable and will be more severely affected by illnesses, and need to avoid contact even with people who live with them. If this applies to you and you would like advice, you can contact your medical team, or you can call us on 0345 3 30 30 30.

Your risk of contracting infections will increase with each person and each contact, so it’s safer to limit both your pool of sexual partners as much as possible, and the frequency you have sex.

So how will I get off?

Sexual intimacy can be used as a strategy to help navigate through difficult times, and physical distancing doesn’t mean everything sexy is off limits! We’re advocating for the exploration of masturbation, ensuring open communication with partners, and viewing this situation as an opportunity to explore how technology can provide a chance to have sex, but at a safe distance. You could use this time to try out something a bit different – whether this is new sex toys, phone sex, sharing sexy snaps, or video chats.

If you’re exploring digital sex it’s important that you’re feeling able to advocate for yourself, consent freely and enthusiastically, and have a good understanding of how to play safe on the internet. You might want to consider hiding your face and/or any identifying features on you such as tattoos, and blurring out the room around you to protect your identity and privacy.

If you’re not having sex for the time being, this may be a time to reflect on how your sex life was before, and any changes you’d like to make to your sex life once lockdown is over. If you don’t feel confident communicating with your partners or you're not getting what you need from your sex life, LGBT Foundation’s Sexual Health team are here to help with this.

As always, if you want to talk to someone about the type of sex you’re having, or the sex that you want to have, you can contact our sexual health team for non-judgemental sex positive discussions at sexualhealth@lgbt.foundation. If you prefer to have this discussion over the phone, send us your number and we will arrange to call you back.

What if I’m still hooking-up?

We know from our contact with the community and our sexual health partners that some people are continuing to have sex with partners outside of their own household. We are committed to helping everybody stay as safe as possible – it’s better that people have safer sex than unsafe sex.

With more partners comes more risk of some infections, and, depending on the types of sex you are having, an increased risk of STI and HIV infection. If you are continuing to have sex with people, it’s best to limit your pool of sexual partners as much as possible. Sex with yourself is the safest option, but if this isn’t possible then have as few partners as you can will reduce your risk. Having group sex during an outbreak is higher risk.

Sexual health clinics remain open, so if you need to you can still speak to a medical professional about your sexual health. You should contact them by phone or online and only attend in person if asked to do so by their staff. Many offer testing from home if you are asymptomatic.

PrEP and PEP are tools for preventing HIV transmission, and will not protect against other STIs or infections. Using condoms and lube is as important as ever in protecting you and your partner(s). We’re providing free postal condoms and lube to Greater Manchester residents which you can order here.

For some practical tips on reducing your risk, check out our 10 ways to reduce health risks during sex.