Thinking of Hooking Up In Person Again? Here’s What Experts Recommend

by Cady Drell

Editor’s note: this post was published on March 9, 2020. We urge readers to abide by guidelines issued in their local areas since then.

For over four months now, coronavirus has drastically shifted the way Bumble’s community interacts. More virtual dating options and a slew of creative ideas for socially-distanced ‘IRL’ dates have helped people get to know each other and make meaningful connections while also mitigating the spread of the virus. But as several states loosen restrictions (while others lock down for a second time), some people are exploring the next step in returning to normalcy: hooking up. One survey of young adults in big U.S. cities even revealed that more than half of Chicago-based respondents admitted to breaking quarantine for sex, while 25% in L.A. said they had. 

With so many unknowns still remaining about COVID-19, the only truly safe option is to stay distanced and follow the Center for Disease Control (CDC) guidelines. Dr. Charlene Brown, a physician and public health expert who previously served as a Medical Officer for the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, advises against breaking quarantine to get intimate with someone outside of your home. “Honestly, there’s no way to hook up safely in a pandemic,” she says. But if you’ve weighed the risks and are thinking about getting intimate with a new partner, there are some actions you should take to better protect yourself and others. Bumble asked health and sexual wellness experts their advice for having the safest sex possible in the time of coronavirus.

How you do it — and what you do afterward — can make a difference

While experts now believe that COVID-19 isn’t a sexually transmitted virus, it is transmitted by sharing the air with a new person, which means the virus can easily spread during a hookup. “If you do have sex knowing that it’s a very risky choice, keep your mask on and try to avoid facing one another,” recommends Dr. Brown. Yes, keeping a mask on during sex might sound weird to some, but it’s an important part of staying safe. 

The New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene released a series of guidelines called Safer Sex and COVID-19, which suggested that people avoid behaviors that might increase exposure to areas of the body where the virus might be stored, like your mouth or butt. They suggest no kissing or rimming, and if you’re going to engage in sexual activity outside of your immediate quarantine bubble, you should get tested for the virus regularly. The department recommends “monthly, or within five to seven days of a hookup.”  “Honestly, there’s no way to hook up safely in a pandemic.”

Sari Cooper, a certified sex therapist and founder of sex education brand Sex Esteem LLC, also suggests getting creative with how you have sex. “Thinking of positions that keep one’s face as far away from a partner’s face would be a safer approach.” She recommends using toys or your hands to stimulate a partner rather than your mouth. If you can maintain a bit of distance with a barrier — think a hole in a shower curtain — then consider doing so. 

And all the experts who spoke to Bumble agreed: Clean up thoroughly. That means taking a shower before and after, immediately washing the bedding and any clothes you were wearing when you’re done, and disinfecting any surfaces your partner may have touched, especially in shared spaces. 

Be responsible for the health of everyone around you.

When you prepare to hookup with a new partner, think about who else you’re around and who might be impacted if you get sick. “Your sex life should be your personal business — except during a pandemic,” says Dr. Brown. 

Cooper says that means you might need to tell the people around you about your intentions to hook up. “Since we don’t have contact tracing yet in most places, it would help to let roommates know you’re seeing other people without distance so they can discuss alternative arrangements in the home to protect themselves and whoever is in their bubble,” she says.  

And Dr. Paul Gittens, a urologist, sexual medicine specialist, and director of Centers for Sexual Medicine in New York and Philadelphia, warns against being in close proximity to elderly relatives or people with serious medical conditions for at least two weeks after your hookup, as they’re more vulnerable to the virus. 

Take the same health precautions you normally would, plus some new ones.

Though some carriers of the virus don’t show any symptoms at all, Dr. Gittens suggests asking your partner some basic screening questions before you even meet up. These should include whether they have been in contact with someone who has COVID-19 in the last several days; if they’ve experienced shortness of breath, a cough, or difficulty breathing, have a fever or chills; or if they’ve had a loss of taste or smell. 

“Those are very specific to COVID-19, at least currently,” he says. If they say yes to any of those, that’s a good indication you should cancel your scheduled hookup and wait until they get the all-clear from their doctor. The same goes for if you’re feeling under the weather: If you really want to see someone, but you’re experiencing any of the above symptoms, get tested and be ready to avoid other people until your doctor says otherwise. 

You can now also get tested for virus antigens or antibodies in most states, but Dr. Gittens warns, “We know that testing isn’t 100% accurate, and unfortunately you’re only as good as the time when you got tested.” That means that even if you got tested two days before your hookup, there’s no guarantee that you didn’t contract the virus since.
Even if you got tested two days before your hookup, there’s no guarantee that you didn’t contract the virus since.

But just because there’s now a virus to worry about doesn’t mean other sexual health concerns went away: Though health experts don’t know whether condoms and dental dams can prevent spread of the virus, they can protect against sexually transmitted infections (STIs). “Even though we’re living in the age of COVID-19, we still have all these other sexually transmitted infections that are out there,” says Dr. Gittens. As always, safe sex is recommended. 

Even if you take every precaution, getting physically intimate with someone still puts you, your partner, and everyone you both come into contact with at risk. Really consider whether that risk is worth it, and remember that while coronavirus remains a major problem the safest possible sex is still the virtual kind