Every relationship comes with their own unique set of challenges, but they’ve been pushed to the limit during the pandemic. Couples were either forced to move in together or stay apart during the full lockdown back in March, which was a true testament to one another.
For singletons, one-night stands, hook-ups, meeting up for sneaky shag in the park and even hugging were a thing of the past. Socially-distanced sex wasn’t possible, so those abiding by the rules engaged virtually, instead.
But there’s good news for some: in the latest government guidelines, it states people who don’t live together, but are in an “established relationship”, don’t have to socially distance.
Of course, this isn’t good news for those who aren’t in an “established relationship”. Casual sex is still banned – which is bad news for gay hookup culture.
Speaking on Sky News about the rule change, Kay Burley asked Matt Hancock: “What about people who are not in an established relationship?”
“In these rules we have to bring in, there have to be boundaries,” the health secretary replied. “It just means people need to be careful. People need to be sensible. People need to realise by coming in close contact with other households, that is how the virus spreads.
“We all want to keep this virus under control, we all need to play our part... which means following social distancing rules.”
Some have stuck to the rules rigidly. Emma Burnell, 45, director of Political Human in London, tweeted: “I’ve gone six months without sex. It wasn’t fun. I don’t want to go another six.” Speaking to HuffPost UK, she said: “Just before Covid, I fell head over heels in love with two people in quick succession, neither of whom were suitable for a relationship, which I didn’t think I was capable of, but that’s just all I want now.”
And Emma isn’t alone. Six in ten Brits went without any sexual activity during lockdown, according to researchers and health experts at Anglia Ruskin University. But coming out of lockdown, single people were keen to get back on the horse. There was a surge in dating activity over the summer and people coupled up in case of a second lockdown. A survey conducted by dating app Bumble, showed 55% of its users are seeking more meaningful relationships online after a prolonged period of loneliness of lockdown.
So with the possibility of social distancing – and therefore, a ban on casual sex – continuing for months yet, is there a way to do it safely, instead?
Firstly, can coronavirus spread through sex? Yes. Covid-19 is transmitted when you’re in close contact with other people (hence social distancing). “It’s the working up to it [erm, sex] that’s the issue,” Paul Hunter, a professor of medicine and expert in infectious diseases based at the University of East Anglia told HuffPost UK.
“The main risk is going to be from oral, respiratory droplet spread. French kissing is probably not on the cards, so if you come up with a way of having sex without that, it might be a good idea.”
Charlene Douglas, sex coach, therapist, and founder of The Intimacy Coach tells HuffPost UK you could “potentially be giving yourself a death sentence” by sleeping with somebody you don’t really know.
But, some say if people are out having casual sex anyway, they might as well learn to do it safely. “It’s unrealistic to ask everyone to abstain from sex indefinitely, whether in ‘established’ relationships or not,” said a spokesperson from the charity, The Terrence Higgins Trust.
So how’s best to do it safely?
Choose solo sex.
The safest option, of course, is to opt for solo sex – a.k.a masturbation. (No, it’s not the same, we know). Take this time to (re)discover parts of your body. “Your best sexual partner during the Covid-19 pandemic is yourself,” the Terrence Higgins Trust advised.
Douglas adds: “Do what works for you. It’s not for everyone, but explore your own body, as well as a range of toys available. Have fun creating different sensations, use the time to try out different toys, and learn about what you like sexually.”
Do it with someone you trust.
“To add to the guidelines, trust is the biggest thing,” says Douglas. “Ideally, have sex with a partner you live with, or someone that you know. If not, really know what you’re getting yourself into. Be sure to have that conversation whether they have symptoms or if they live with vulnerable people.”
Matt Valentine-Chase, sex coach and therapist, says to be extra safe, you could take temperatures prior to any encounter.
Avoid kissing and wear a face covering.
Last month, charity The Terrence Higgins Trust published a guide on how to have sex safely – and their advice still stands: people should avoid kissing, wear a face covering and choose positions that are safer. And Valentine-Chase, adds to be extra safe, you could wear gloves, too.
Of course, adds Douglas, “the issue is without kissing, touching or massaging it takes away from the intimacy, the build-up sex that leads up penetrative sex and different positions”.
Try mutual masturbation and glory holes.
“With the PPE on, mutual masturbation is probably the safest way to have sex during Covid,” suggests Valentine-Chase. “Glory holes can be great fun and work for any gender [this allows for sexual contact, but prevents close face-to-face contact].
“You can turn the safer aspects into sex play and role play. I advise people to use flavoured condoms for fellatio or dental dams for cunnilingus and rimming. It’s important to know this is not forever – so make it enjoyable.”
Choose positions that avoid face-to-face.
The Trust recommends “picking positions where you are not face-to-face and make sure that they wear a mask”.
“There are lots of positions where your genitals touch but your faces are away from each other,” says Douglas. “These positions are a bit more intimate because it allows you to hear each other’s breathing and touch each other’s skin while you can take it slow, speed up or gyrate.”
This article originally appeared on HuffPost UK and has been updated.