Forward: This post is sponsored by Healthlabs, an independent medical test provider who gives people more options for ordering tests to evaluate their health. You can receive 15% off tests with Health Labs by using the coupon 15offsprinkles at checkout. While their contribution helps fund Kinky Sprinkles, everything that I write is unbiased by their sponsorship and they do not dictate my opinions.
Disclaimer: The following has references to medical research, but we are not a medical provider, and everything here is opinion-based. Please consult a physician or qualified professional for the most recent recommendations on COVID-19 and STD transmission. The following article comments on how a sex-positive person has applied safe sex practices to social distancing measures to design their life around the COVID-19 pandemic.
Our world has transformed overnight due to COVID-19. Suddenly, regular past times like going to concerts and parties are practically non-existent. Even now, as countries slowly open up again, people are gathering in smaller groups and sticking to their family circles. Polyamorous people who typically had a network of intimate partners had to make hard decisions about who they would shelter in place with and who would become a “social-distance long-distance” relationship.
While the sex-positive community is no stranger to measuring these risks and discussing them more openly, having a refresher on measuring risk for safe sex and reducing Coronavirus transmission can’t hurt.
How Risk Profiles Apply to Both Safe Sex and Coronavirus Transmission
Most of the developed world has had some form of sex education. We can generally accept that sex can lead to sexually transmitted diseases, and there are ways to mitigate that risk. Coronavirus isn’t directly a sexually transmitted disease; now, we need to evaluate how we are transmitting a dangerous virus while not having sex. Suddenly, going to the grocery store could put you and your family members at risk. As the world re-opens, the chance isn’t gone, especially in the United States, where the virus arrived later and is still spreading.
STDs are somewhat easier to control than Coronavirus. You can have candid conversations with your sexual partners and get tested regularly. The resources to get tested are expanding, and there are even ways you can check your status without going to the doctor. Coronavirus, on the other hand, has yet to see sustainable and easy-to-access testing processes, and it may be some time until we see them.
Is every time you meet with a friend on a hike like having sex with them? Is it the same for going to the grocery store? What about traveling? While managing STDs has become (hopefully) a habit for many people, understanding how they can manage risk and discuss risk profiles with family and Coronavirus is another thing.
Managing STD Risk Profiles
If you’re sexually active, there is always a level of risk of contracting a sexually transmitted disease. The only way to altogether avoid STDs is to abstain from sexual contact. Most people won’t do that, and that’s why abstinence-only sex education is so ineffective .
Having a clear picture of what you consider acceptable risk is a way to make sure you’re less likely to get an STD. However, having sex at all, you should accept that there is a risk of contracting an STD – and most of us will at some point in our lives. That statement will make most people feel icky – “No way! I have safe sex, and I’m monogamous. STDs are for dirty people!” Sorry, but the data doesn’t lie. Serial monogamists are at a higher risk of STDs than some polyamorous people because they are less likely to have conversations with their partners about STD transmission.
You can take steps to understand your current risk and to take control of your sexual health:
- Evaluate what would happen if you got an STD – If you found out you had Chlamydia, how would that affect you? Imagine you have Chlamydia for a moment – would you mostly be psychologically upset? Or do you have underlying conditions where something like a treatable STD could severely impact your long term health? A lot of people skip this step – but since humans are hilariously bad at actually estimating their risk, playing out the worst-case scenario can help you realize if the risk you’re taking really is acceptable to you.
- Take a Look at Your Sexual Habits – Do you have sex with multiple people regularly? Or do you tend to have one partner exclusively at a time? Do you have casual sex with people you don’t know very well? Be honest with yourself about your preferences and past behavior.
- Have You Been Tested? The official recommendation is that you and your new partner should get tested before becoming sexually active. While that may work for those who have one partner at a time with a gap in between, it can be less feasible for those who have multiple partners or regularly have casual sex. If that sounds like you, setting up regular testing would be a better bet (and using barriers with your partners).
- If You Have A Treatable STD, Take Care of it ASAP – If you find out you have a treatable STD like Chlamydia or Gonorrhea, make sure you get to the doctor and take the full dose of antibiotics. These STDs can be uncomfortable and unpleasant, but when treated quickly, they don’t cause lasting damage. If they are left untreated, they can cause irreparable damage.
Understanding Risk Profiles
A risk profile is your behavioral and health history that paints a picture on how likely you are to be exposed to an STD (or a novel Coronavirus). Our risk profiles include factors we can’t control (like our socio-economic status) and those we can (how we have sex and with whom). In addition to those factors, how you feel about transmission and what you find acceptable for you are part of your profile.
For example, if you are a male-identified homosexual who chooses to have unprotected sex casually, your behavior gives you a unique risk profile where you may be exposed to HIV or other STDs at a higher rate than someone who is in a committed monogamous relationship. Neither of these risk profiles is better than the other – each of these people is deserving of respect and is welcome to get their freak on however they want. Knowing your risk profile, however, is critical to understand how likely you are to contract a virus or STD and, most importantly, transmit it to your loved ones.
So to sum up a risk profile covers:
- Your behavior
- Who you engage with sexually or socially
- Your career
- Socio-economic status and other factors
- How you feel about transmission
Applying Safe Sex to Coronavirus Transmission
We can’t stay at home forever. While governments and individuals may not agree about opening up businesses and beginning to move around normally, it’s happening anyway. Each country is a bit different in their approach, but chances are you see restrictions relax around you.
So is it safe? How do you weigh your need for social interaction and the risk of getting or transmitting Coronavirus? We aren’t having this conversation enough. Coming from a family where I have severely immunocompromised loved-ones, we started the process with our “Safe sex” conversations about how we would keep each other safe. While we don’t always agree, there is a way to make sure we are all managing risk in a way that respects the wishes of our family members.
Here are some ideas on how to form your behaviors for interacting socially:
- If possible, evaluate your status: This option is severely limited, and there are still some questions about the efficacy of the antibody tests. However, if available to you, it can be helpful to confirm if you or your family has already had COVID-19. If you were already sick and tested positive for COVID-19, you have a picture of your future risk. While scientists haven’t decided 100% that you will have immunity, you can likely go about life without worrying about transmitting it to others.
- Evaluate Your Transmission Points: Your risk will be higher if you’re an essential worker or actively care for those infected with the Coronavirus. If you don’t know your status (above) or have tested negative, you can assume you or the person in your family who is being more regularly exposed will have a higher risk of transmitting the virus.
- Discuss What’s Important: My partner and I have decided to forgo most social interactions outside of our “Quaran-team” because my father has Parkinson’s, and COVID-19 could threaten his life. We let our highest-risk member dictate the risk profile he finds acceptable. Ironically, he often takes more risks than my partner, and I do. Still, my partner and I want to reduce his risk as much as possible, so we don’t meet with friends in person or go to the gym yet.
- Agree on Your Quaran-team: You may not want to continue only socializing with people you live with – and that’s fine. Rather than socializing freely, agreeing with a slightly larger group of people that you are the core group that will interact can be a safer way to socialize. My family has expanded from my partner and me to my parents and Aunt and Uncle.
- Stay Informed On Expert Recommendations: While we are still learning about COVID-19, the best we can do is follow industry experts. The current recommendations say that transmission is less likely outdoors, which means that if you do choose to socialize, you can mitigate your risk by socializing outside. Think of the outside like a condom for Coronavirus. Or don’t, because that sounds pretty weird.
The absolute safest way to mitigate transmission risks would be to self-quarantine every time you were in a higher-risk situation. I would equate this to the “abstain from sex completely” approach of Coronavirus. Like for sexual contact, most people won’t be able to do this. However, if you make a habit of self-quarantine when you know you were exposed, it may be a way for life to carry on more normally. We had to make an international move amid the pandemic. When we arrived at our new home, we very carefully self-quarantined for 14 days. While it was tough to wave at my family through the car glass and stay away for that long, we needed not to expose our family to unnecessary risk. Later, we decided to go on a trip to test-drive cars. Before taking this trip, we all had a conversation about the acceptable risk – would that be OK with everyone? Once we agreed, we carried out careful social distancing during our trip. After that, we would discuss our exposure with anyone we might interact with to see if that was acceptable to them.
Conclusion: Life Moving Forward
We are social creatures, and we’re now in a period where we will have to weigh the risk of COVID-19 with the psychological damage of limiting our social interactions too much. Practicing social distancing and deciding on your social behaviors with your social group will help us find a new way forward. We cannot live in fear of the novel Coronavirus, and we cannot completely delete our risk of catching it without completely isolating ourselves. Forming a strong identity around your risk and the risk of those you could transmit to is a way forward where you can begin to find our new normal mindfully.
Ending on a hopeful note, we have a unique opportunity to evaluate what is truly important in our lives during this pandemic. I know that I have taken additional time to value my family and the smaller things in life. I’m going to try to take my attitude into the future – and use it to ruthlessly cut out situations that do not cause my joy. I hope you find similar peace in your journey.
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