Sex and your sexual health during lockdown

ISWM Summer 2019 - Bisi

We’re here to answer the top five questions you might have during this time of social distancing.

The COVID-19 pandemic has seen huge changes to our lives, including our sex lives. With the Government advice on social distancing, people have been advised not to leave their homes to meetup with anyone, but this has resulted in many questions about how to look after our sexual health during these challenging times.

Can I still have sex during lockdown?

Unless you are having sex with someone else living in your home, the guidance is that you shouldn’t be meeting up with anyone.

This isn’t about your sexual health, this is to protect your general health and people around you who could be vulnerable to coronavirus. Regardless if it’s someone you regularly hook-up with or even your partner, if they live outside your home, meeting up for sex is off the cards for the time being.

That’s because no one should be leaving their home other than for the reasons outlined by the Government (exercise, buying essential items, medical reasons or going to work). The more times you go outside, the greater risk you have in coming into contact with the virus.

It’s also worth remembering that even if you don’t have any symptoms, you might still be infectious. It’s estimated that one in three people who contract coronavirus will show no symptoms.

But fear not, there are still plenty of alternative ways to have sex, such as using toys, phone sex and of course masturbation. All of these have zero risk of passing on coronavirus. Our favourite sexual health nurse, Sarah Mulindwa, has written a great blog post on why it’s time to end the shame of female masturbation.

Are sexual health clinics still open?

Check your local sexual health clinic to find out what services they are providing.

To free up capacity elsewhere in the NHS, sexual health clinics have greatly reduced or closed their face-to-face services for non-urgent care. This means that if you don’t have any sexually transmitted infection (STI) symptoms, it’s unlikely you’ll get seen.

For anyone with symptoms or needed urgent assistance, for example PEP, you can still get in touch with your clinic by telephone in the first instance. Walk-in appointments are no longer available so it is important you do not attempt to visit a clinic without contacting them first.

We advise that everyone who is sexually active tests at least once a year for HIV, along with regular STI screenings.

Postal testing for STIs and HIV are still available in many parts of the country. This usually involves taking a small sample of body fluids and posting it back to a lab, with results sent by text message or email a few days later.

Alternatively, if you want to use an HIV self testing kit, where you get to read your own results, you can order one online from a number of retailers or from Terrence Higgins Trust’s Fastest site. If you need treatment, you will still be able to access it.

Where can I get condoms?

Across the country, a number of local councils and sexual health organisations are offering free condom postal schemes for people at risk of poor sexual health. Check out your local sexual health clinic or organisation for more details.

If you’re not able to source free condoms by post most pharmacies and supermarkets remain open and will stock condoms and lube, and a larger variety can usually be found from online health retailers.

While many of us have a little more time on our hands, now is the perfect time to do your homework on finding the perfect fit when it comes to condoms. Take our condom quiz and answer just three quick questions and we’ll recommend condoms to suit you or your partner.

Should I still be taking PrEP?

The decision on whether to continue taking PrEP is a personal one. If you do decide to stop taking PrEP during lockdown, it’s really important to do so safely – how to do this is different for different people.

However, if you are having regular sex with someone in your household and there is an increased risk of HIV transmission, then continue taking PrEP as prescribed. If you are accessing PrEP through the NHS England trial, your trial site should be in contact when you are due a new prescription.

I’m living with HIV, do I need to self-isolate for three months?

In line with guidance issued by Terrence Higgins Trust and British HIV Association (BHIVA), people who have well-controlled HIV i.e. a CD4 of 200 or more, are not at any greater risk from coronavirus.

You should follow the social distancing guidance issued by the Government to the general population. If you have any other health conditions which may increase your risk from COVID-19, or a CD4 count of less than 50, it’s advised you self-isolate or ‘shield’ for three months to protect yourself.

If you have any concerns about your own situation, you should contact your HIV clinic.