Sexual Wellness Resource Center
For Adults over 50.

Is It Safe for Seniors to Have Sex During the Coronavirus Crisis?

heart shaped soap
By Michael Bates, M.D.

As per our Terms of Use, this article is for general educational and informational purposes only and is not meant to serve as a substitute for professional medical advice. This article was updated on April 6, 2020 and is reflective of the CDC recommendations at that time.

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We know that sex is a stress relieving activity, and there certainly is plenty of stress and uncertainty these days between the daily news of increasing numbers of new cases and the fall of the stock market shrinking our retirement plans.

But is having sex during this pandemic a wise idea, especially for seniors?

Those of us 60 and older are in the high-risk group, especially if one is a smoker or there is an associated severe chronic condition or illness. Why are we at higher risk? It primarily has to do with our immune systems. With age, the human immune system just doesn't react as quickly or as well, especially if there is a heavy load of exposure.

What are we to do during this time to help prevent getting and spreading the virus?

The CDC and state health authorities offer best practices, guidelines and instructions we should follow. They are a source of credible and reliable information at this time. If you are under the care of a physician, they may have specific directives for you. Keep in mind that it may be much more difficult to reach your provider due to the load on health care facilities.

Should we alter our routines? Yes!

  • Avoid crowded public places
  • Maintain social distancing when in public, defined as six feet spacing
  • Wash hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, especially after you have been in a public place, or after blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing
  • Don't travel on buses, trains or airplanes

What about wearing masks and rubber gloves? The CDC previously recommended that people didn't need to wear masks unless they were sick or showed symptoms. However, they have updated that recommendation. Recent studies show that perhaps 25% of people infected with COV-19 may not have symptoms and could be spreading the disease. This means that people unknowingly infected and interacting in close proximity where social distancing is difficult to maintain, for instance grocery stores and pharmacies, can contribute to community-based transmission. Now, the face covering does not need to be surgical grade masks, as they are still in short supply for health providers. People can wear face coverings such as scarves and homemade cloth or paper masks. It is still important to maintain social distancing and washing hands frequently.

The virus lives on cardboard, metal and plastic surfaces for several hours, maybe even days. Save the gloves for trips to the grocery store where there are such surfaces. Remove them properly after returning home, from the inside out. Hand washing is still required after removing the gloves, as they may have an unnoticed hole or tear.

So what about sex during the COVID-19 pandemic?

We should maintain normal healthy diets, exercise at home rather than the gym, and, yes, continue with sexual activity. During such turbulent times, it may be one of the few things that feels normal.

However, that doesn't mean that ALL sexual activity is advisable. Though coronavirus is not classified as a sexually transmitted infection (STI), it can be passed between people within six feet of one another. Obviously, that's going to include partnered sexual activity. It can spread through direct contact with mucus or saliva. Kissing can easily spread COVID-19.

The New York City Health Department recently released a helpful memo on sex and coronavirus. It contains the following information:

  • "You are your safest sex partner…masturbation will not spread COVID-19."
  • "The next safest partner is someone you live with."
  • "You should avoid close contact — including sex — with anyone outside your household."

Sex with yourself is the safest sex—enjoy it!

Something helpful to remember at this time...masturbation is sex. Real sex! It is not an inferior alternative to partnered sex, but an equally valid type of sex. While it doesn't have the same closeness as partnered sex, solo sex offers many of the same benefits, like stress relief and better sleep. We can all use that right now!

Think of this time as an opportunity to rediscover (or discover for the first time!) the joys of self-pleasure. Take your time and explore. Try something new, like relaxing in a warm bathtub or experimenting with toys like a clitoral vibrator, penis stimulator or stroker.

Partnered sex is not without risk, though there are ways to help mitigate it

As the guidelines stated above, the next safest sexual partner is someone you live with. This is not a safe time to meet up with new people, for dating, sex or otherwise.

You should avoid sex and kissing if you or your partner has tested positive for the virus, may have the virus, has been exposed to the virus, has symptoms (fever, cough, sore throat or shortness of breath), or feels in any way unwell. Keep in mind that some carriers of COVID-19 are asymptomatic (meaning they don't experience symptoms), and some people experience different symptoms than others. A lack of symptoms doesn't mean a lack of risk.

If you or your partner has been exposed to the virus, they should be in auto isolation for 14 days. They should sleep in a separate space and if possible have their own bathroom. You can be in the same living or dining room together if you can maintain a physical separation of six feet (unless directed otherwise by your doctor or health official). All utensils and surfaces touched must all be thoroughly cleaned and disinfected. This link from the CDC has more information about preventing spread within the household.

The same advice applies if you or your partner has the virus but are not seriously ill. Your doctor or health official can provide further guidance for your situation, particularly if you are at higher risk.

You may want to skip sex if you or your partner has a medical condition that could be worsened by contracting COVID-19, like  pneumonia within the past three months, chronic lung disease such as asthma or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), or diabetes.

What are some alternatives for partners who can't have sex right now?

If you're not able to be physically close with your partner right now, rather than focus on the distress, focus on getting creative. Was there ever a time you were apart from a partner due to a long business trip or long-distance relationship? What did you do then to keep the spark alive?

Rediscover (or discover for the first time) the fun and thrill of sexy talk over the phone. Make a date of it so you have time to anticipate!

If you're comfortable with tech and phone apps, you might try app-enabled vibrators from We-Vibe. The app allows couples to control each other's vibrations remotely—from the next room or miles and miles away! These toys are popular with long-distance and military couples. You can see a complete line-up here.

Everyone needs to practice safer sex (solo or partnered)

Good sexual hygiene is always important, but even more so now. Wash up before and after sex, and wash sex toys, too. Wash hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. Using condoms and dental dams can reduce contact with saliva or feces, especially during oral or anal sex.

A word of comfort

This will end; all crises do. The virus will be controlled, the stock market will recover, and life will get back to normal. Before that, there will be a few more weeks or months of scary headlines. Keep informed of major developments and instructions, but don't spend too much time watching the news. It will only make you more stressed about things you can't control.

In the meantime, don't add another stressor by stopping safe sexual activity.

As per our Terms of Use, this article is for general educational and informational purposes only and is not meant to serve as a substitute for professional medical advice. Consult with your own physician or health care practitioner regarding the use of any information received here before using or relying on it. Your physician or health care practitioner should address any and all medical questions, concerns, and decisions regarding the possible treatment of any medical condition.