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Can COVID-19 Be Sexually Transmitted?

May 27, 2020
Medically reviewed by Susan Kerrigan, MD and Marianne Madsen

As we continue to learn more and more about the spread of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19), some are wondering if transmission is also a risk in the bedroom. What we know for certain is that COVID-19 can be transmitted through respiratory droplets when a person is in close contact with someone who has the virus and has respiratory symptoms like coughing or sneezing. It can also occur through contact with surfaces in the immediate vicinity or with objects used by a person with COVID-19.

 

Most recently, researchers in China have discovered traces of SARS-CoV-2 in the semen of patients with COVID-19 as well as those who recovered, suggesting that COVID-19 might be able to be sexually transmitted. It is important to understand that while COVID-19 was found in a small sample size of semen in this particular study, this does not necessarily mean that the virus itself is transmitted sexually.

The study, other researchers warn, also raises many questions. It doesn’t explain how much viral load was present in the sperm, nor did it examine whether the virus can be transmitted through sexual activity. However, confirming the presence of the virus in semen does make it something that needs to be researched and verified. Additional studies are required with respect to the detailed information about virus shedding, survival time, and concentration in semen.

Most would agree that sexual encounters are pretty far from one’s mind with so many people suffering from this devastating illness. But it does raise the point that there are multiple modalities of transmission as well as multiple body parts that can transmit the virus. If you are sick enough to be quarantined in your own home or if you are quarantining due to exposure concerns, you may want to hold off on sex for a while longer than you’d planned, even after you are supposedly infection-free.

 

Dr. Jill Grimes comments that “We don’t know yet if detectable COVID viral particles in semen are infectious” and adds that for her, “this is honestly a non-issue, because if you are having sex with someone, you are for sure putting yourself at risk of potential COVID transmission purely from close respiratory contact,” said Grimes. “More and more we are seeing that it’s the close, extended viral exposure time spent in close proximity, especially indoors or in a poorly ventilated or small room, that is most effectively transmitting COVID.” If you’re already quarantining with someone — hanging out, not wearing masks, eating and talking together — then it’s unlikely having sex would significantly increase your risk of transmission.

The best way to protect yourself from COVID-19 is to stay home to decrease the risk of transmission. Even if you exhibit no symptoms, you may still be a carrier of COVID-19. If you do need to leave your house for essential activity, wash your hands frequently, maintain a safe distance from others, and wear a protective mask.

 

While the long-term effects of the recent semen study are still inconclusive, the best way to protect yourself and others from contracting the coronavirus sexually and developing COVID-19 is to practice safe sex. This is true of protecting yourself or others from getting a sexually transmitted infection (STI). However, if you’re worried that a sexual partner might transmit the coronavirus to you sexually, it’s best to avoid contact altogether and continue to socially distance.

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