Several rumours are circulating on social media concerning sex and the coronavirus.

As precautionary social distancing measures for individuals not known to be infected become more widely adopted, what is the evidence that coronavirus could be sexually transmitted?

Clearly the advice for a person isolated because of COVID-19 rules out sexual intimacy with others. Public Health England say spending more than 15 minutes speaking to or within two metres of person with the COVID-19 virus, could mean you catch the virus, so having sex is clearly off the cards.

People also worry that this respiratory virus can transmit like HIV or Zika. No evidence so far suggests that they are. It seems that the risk of contracting the virus is greater from kissing.

At this point in the UK, there’s no reason not to have sex if you know your partner well, don’t have symptoms, haven’t been in contact with anyone with coronavirus and aren’t in self- isolation because you have been to high risk countries.

As Dr Muhammad Munir of Lancaster University said to the Guardian yesterday “Coronavirus itself is not a sexually transmitted disease.”

 

Where did these stories come from?

Reuters reports that sales of condoms have increased in China since the coronavirus outbreak.  Not all may be being used as you might expect. Some media channels have reported that people are using condoms to protect their fingers when calling for a lift.  Such stories might make good clickbait but risk confused messaging and rarely provide helpful information.

What is the basis for the claim?

When new viruses emerge, it takes time to fully understand them and how they spread, so understandably people worry and want to take precautions. The WHO say that the main way that the novel coronavirus spreads is through droplets produced when an infected individual coughs or sneezes. They will continue to look into ongoing research and share additional information as it arises.

We identified no relevant research on whether semen or vaginal fluid of people with COVID-19 contains the live coronavirus. There is some initial evidence that the virus can be found in faeces but similarly the risk of contracting the virus from this route, is not yet certain.

Even if coronavirus can’t be sexually transmitted, this doesn’t mean that having sex is a risk-free activity. The close contact and kissing involved in having sex offer an opportunity for the virus to be passed on through droplets and saliva. So, if your partner has symptoms of a respiratory infection, or have recently been to a high risk area, or in contact with a person with coronavirus, you may want to make do with a brief elbow bump for the time being.

Avoid close contact with them, including sex.

You may also want to be cautious if you don’t know your partner very well and therefore aren’t sure of their likelihood of being infected.

 

What do trusted sources say?

Several resources are available from trusted sources such as the WHO to advise on what social distancing measures can be taken in the different circumstances countries find themselves in.

Social distancing aims to reduce the possibility of new infections by reducing contact between individuals when community spread outstrips the ability to find possible cases through contact tracing.  The European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) describe several progressive layers of social distancing for individuals and groups. Individual measures include:

  1. Isolation of confirmed or suspected cases
  2. Quarantine of healthy contacts of cases
  3. Stay-at-home recommendations for the public as a whole

 

Group measures include, for example, closure of educational institutions, and cancellation of mass gatherings. As the coronavirus outbreak progresses, more of these measures may be advised and people should keep up to date with the latest government advice.

Analysis by EIU Healthcare, supported by Reckitt Benckiser

 

Reading list

  1. World Health Organization. Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) updates: https://www.who.int/emergencies/diseases/novel-coronavirus-2019  (Accessed March 12, 2020)
  2. Uk Government. Coronavirus (COVID-19) action plan https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/coronavirus-action-plan (Accessed March 12, 2020)
  3. How will country-based mitigation measures influence the course of the COVID-19 epidemic? https://www.thelancet.com/action/showPdf?pii=S0140-6736%2820%2930567-5 (Accessed March 12, 2020