Advice

Coronavirus and sex: What gay guys need to know before hooking up

Two men lean in for a kiss
(Photo: Shutterstock)

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, the advice from authorities has been consistent: Keep washing your hands, avoid touching your face, and practice social distancing to minimize your risk of acquiring the infection.

Depending on where you live in the world, most places have issued stay-at-home orders. This is a challenge for most of us: Those living together can find themselves experiencing friction, while those living alone can suffer from the effects of isolation and loneliness.

And despite what seems an unequivocal message, some gay men are still hooking up with others from outside their home – some because they feel it’s a risk worth taking, or because they don’t think they’re putting themselves at risk.

To be fair, when authorities issue instructions, they don’t always take into account the… erm, creative ways in which some gay men find to have sex: i.e. What is the COVID-19 risk of sucking dick through a glory hole?

Although much remains unclear about COVID-19 – such as why it poses a threat to some people without obvious risk factors than others – here’s a round-up of some of the things we know.

Can I get COVID-19 from kissing?

Yes. COVID-19 is a respiratory tract infection caused by a coronavirus. The virus will be present in saliva, respiratory secretions and droplets produced by those who are infected.

Also, bear in mind, someone does not need to be showing symptoms to be infectious. They may unknowingly transmit viral particles in micro-droplets – through sneezing or coughing. The longer you spend with someone, the more likely you are to come into contact with the virus in these micro-droplets. Experts recommend you stay at least 6ft away from others.

Can I get COVID-19 from oral sex?

It is still unknown if coronavirus can be spread via oral sex through semen or vaginal secretions. However, as getting close enough to someone to perform oral sex will bring you closer than 6ft, you are putting yourself at risk. For example, if an infected guy has rubbed his nose and then touched his dick, he could have spread the virus on his skin.

Theoretically, if someone is wearing a condom and you’re sucking them off through a glory hole, the risks will be minimized – but that doesn’t make it risk-free. And let’s be honest: Who likes wearing condoms for oral sex?

The same is true if you’re being sucked off. An infected person will likely have the virus in their saliva. The simple answer is we don’t know.

Can I get COVID-19 from rimming?

The virus that causes COVID-19 has been found in the poop of those infected. So, even if someone is meticulous about douching before sex, there is a theoretical risk.

Dr. Evan Goldstein, founder, Bespoke Surgical and Future Method – and an expert in gay men and their anuses – told Queerty, “There has been some evidence that the virus can be transmitted via fecal matter. Although there isn’t any raw data available specifically for rimming, we must assume a clear link exists. The best option for the community at large is to avoid it during this time or analyze your own risk, making sure a safe partner is chosen, like someone you live with.

“Another option, even though it’s not necessarily glamorous, is to purchase some dental-dams, which can be used to minimize contamination.”

What about anal sex? 

As already stated, there’s no evidence COVID-19 can be transmitted via anal intercourse, but like oral sex, the practice obviously brings you into close contact with someone.

“As we know so little, we cannot make any confident recommendations about the routes of transmission,” says Dr. Tom Nadarzynski, an assistant professor in behavioral medicine and an honorary research consultant at Solent NHS Trust in England. “We know that it is extremely easy to contact this virus via human-to-human interaction so any physical contact would be risky.”

Is it true that HIV drugs can protect you from COVID-19?

Not as far as anyone knows. In February, several news outlets said China was trialing Kaletra (a combination of lopinavir and ritonavir) as a potential coronavirus treatment. However, after two weeks of testing, no discernible benefit was observed. The same applies to PrEP.

What if I stop hooking up but just meet up occasionally with one “friend”?

This may be very tempting, particularly if neither of you have symptoms. However, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a medical expert to give you the green light. Vox recently ran an article on this topic, asking, “Is it alright to have a coronavirus buddy?”.

“Look, I’m single, and I get how hard it is,” said Krutika Kuppalli, biosecurity fellow, Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, “But I personally wouldn’t feel comfortable doing something like this because I don’t know where my friends have been. You have to think about the other people, what potential risk factors they have, and how much you trust them.

“And the problem is, the data shows that there can be presymptomatic or asymptomatic transmission. I don’t want to be exposed to someone who may not be having symptoms but can get me sick.”

If you’re one your own, Dr. Goldstein advises you spend this time exploring your body better.

“I understand that many people may be feeling isolated and frustrated—both mentally and sexually,” he told Queerty. “But just because we can’t get together doesn’t mean we can’t still get off.” He recently published a list of ten ways to explore your sexual self without a partner.

I’m pretty sure COVID-19 won’t affect me badly, so if I want to take the risk, what’s the problem?

It’s true, you may only suffer a mild illness. However, you run the risk of passing it on to others who may experience serious illness or could die. And we’ve all read the news stories about people passing who had no underlying health conditions. No-one can assume they’ll recover easily if infected.

This week, Dr. Anthony Fauci, Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease (NIAID), said in a Snapchat interview that meeting up with anyone from an app, such as Grindr, posed a “relative risk”, but that, “everybody has their own tolerance for risks” and people will ultimately make their own choices. However, he reiterated that people without any symptoms can transmit the virus.

“That’s one of the things that’s really troublesome,” he said. “That if everybody transmitted would only transmit when they’re sick, that would be much easier. But what we’re seeing, which becomes really problematic, is that there’s a considerable amount of transmission from an asymptomatic person.”

Dr. Vandana Shrikanth is Infection Control Officer with Legacy Community Health, an LGBTQ health center in Houston, Texas.

“This is what I’m telling my patients,” she told Queerty. “Right now, you might not want to bring a new person into your life. We’ve got treatment for gonorrhea, chlamydia, syphilis, HIV, Hepatitis B, hepatitis C, herpes… we can do something for those. But with coronavirus, I would not be able to offer you anything. So please do not enter into new hookups.”

Shrikanth believes most of her patients are following her advice, but others are not. She’s seeing new cases of syphilis, gonorrhea and other STIs at her clinic, despite Texas currently being under a stay-at-home order.

Dr. Nadarzynski warns we still don’t know enough about the virus – particularly its long-term health implications – to people to not take it seriously.

“Future research may show that the virus could have some severe consequences not observed in the early stages of the pandemic. My advice to anyone thinking they are neither at risk of the virus nor the infection is severe, I would ask them to wait with any sexual activity till we know more about this virus.

“The last thing we want is to see a surge in some new disease in gay and bisexual men, which could have been prevented now.”

One last thing to remember if you’re still feeling tempted by that random hookup: The more we follow guidance now, the sooner this self-isolation period will all be over.

UPDATE: May, 8, 2020. A Chinese study this week reported evidence of coronavirus being present in the semen of some men infected, but it is still unclear whether sex may be a route of transmission. The article has been updated to reflect these findings.

For more info, check out these sex and coronavirus guidelines from the city of New York.