Sexual health service sees spike in demand as lockdown eases

Three months of abstinence was relieved for many when the government introduced lockdown 'support bubbles'. (Getty Images)

Demand for sexual health services has reportedly spiked after government officials relaxed the coronavirus lockdown.

Boris Johnson announced on 11 June, people who live alone in England could form “support bubbles”, allowing them to visit one other household and even stay the night from 13 June.

The government said the move was to help combat loneliness for those who had nothing but their own company for three months.

Professor Linda Bauld from the University of Edinburgh called it a “very British way of saying intimacy matters”.

The online doctor Zava reported a spike in sales in the week that followed the announcement, with demand for emergency contraception 43% higher than normal.

People will have to be particularly cautious as relaxed restrictions allow us to get closer. (Getty Images)

Zava also reported sales of herpes kits rose by 23%, while chlamydia treatments increased by 15%.

Sexually transmitted infections (STIs) aside, erectile dysfunction medication sales were up 18%.

Contraception is as important as ever to ward off unwanted pregnancies, while barrier methods like condoms protect against STIs.

Zava’s Dr Kathryn Basford stressed people should always use protection when having sex with a new partner, even if they have assured you they are STI-free.

If you mistakenly have unprotected sex, get tested as soon as possible, she added.

Some STIs like chlamydia and gonorrhoea can take two to three weeks to show up on a test, while HIV and syphilis can only appear between six weeks and three months after infection.

If a test comes back negative, check if you need to repeat it, said Dr Basford.

The NHS recommends talking to a healthcare professional, like a pharmacist, before buying an at-home STI kit.

Can the coronavirus spread through sex?

The coronavirus mainly spreads face to face via infected droplets expelled in a cough or sneeze.

It is known to be in saliva, which makes kissing a risk.

The coronavirus was only identified at the end of 2019, meaning there is still relatively little scientists understand about the novel pathogen.

There is no evidence it is in vaginal secretions, however, the virus has been picked up in semen.

A small study of 38 men with the infection in China found six (15%) had detectable traces of the pathogen in their semen.

“Abstinence or condom use might be considered as preventive means for these patients,” the scientists wrote in the journal JAMA Network Open.

Other experts said at the time the “interesting” study “raises the possibility” the coronavirus “might be transmissible via sexual contact”.

They added, however, the participant number was small, with most semen samples coming back clear.

Professor Allan Pacey from the University of Sheffield pointed out the study is “at odds” with another Chinese paper that found no evidence of the coronavirus in semen samples from 34 patients.

Anyone with tell-tale symptoms – fever, cough, or loss of smell or tase – should self-isolate entirely at home for seven days, ideally in a separate room with their own bathroom.

Other members of their household must do the same for two weeks, not even leaving to buy essentials.

Should you wear a mask during sex?

Perhaps unsurprisingly, government officials are yet to weigh in on this one.

A report by Harvard scientists, however, recommends “wearing a mask” if having sex with someone you are not quarantining with.

“We recognise it may come as an unusual recommendation, but wearing a mask during intercourse with someone from outside the home may reduce risk, as may a range of other strategies, including showering, hand washing and cleaning surfaces where the virus may reside following sex,” lead author Dr Jack Turban told Yahoo Life.

Co-author Dr Kenneth Mayer added: “We’re not saying, ‘wear a mask and don’t worry’.

“More that if you [wear one], you’ll decrease risk.” 

The Harvard team described abstinence as “low risk for infection, though not feasible for many”.

Masturbation was also considered “low risk”. This was echoed by The New York City department of health, which reported “you are your safest sex partner”.

“Masturbation will not spread [the coronavirus], especially if you wash your hands (and any sex toys) with soap and water for at least 20 seconds before and after sex,” it added.

The World Health Organization has stressed people should not wear a mask while “exercising”.

The heavy panting may make breathing difficult and encourage the growth of microorganisms on the inside of the covering, it added.

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