No, Sex Doesn’t Increase COVID Risk — and Other Post-Vax Intimacy Questions Answered
By Sara Gaynes Levy
Editor’s note: this post was published on April 15, 2021. We urge readers to abide by guidelines issued in their local areas since then.
With more and more U.S. adults becoming fully vaccinated each day, there’s good news on the horizon. The CDC says that those who’ve completed their vaccination can resume some normal activities, like hanging out unmasked indoors with other vaccinated people and traveling without quarantine.
Even more exciting, for many in our Bumble community? You can start dating in-person, and hooking up with new people. We asked top epidemiologists for their advice on getting intimate after vaccination. (For more on how to plan your first date(s) safely, see our post-vax dating advice here.)
First, consider your circumstances
Getting intimate with a new person post-vaccine still isn’t a free-for-all. To do so safely, you’ll need to make sure both you and your match are fully vaccinated, which means waiting two weeks after your final dose. If you’re in between your first and second shot, or it hasn’t been two weeks since your final shot, Colleen Kelley, MD, associate professor of infectious diseases at Emory University School of Medicine, recommends proceeding as though you haven’t been vaccinated yet.
Before hooking up, Dr. Kelley and Emily Landon, MD, an infectious disease specialist and associate professor of medicine at the University of Chicago, suggest considering if you or anyone in either of your bubbles is high-risk (especially if they’re high-risk and not yet vaccinated). This is because the vaccines aren’t 100% effective, so you may want to remain cautious. Also, consider if you’re based somewhere that’s experiencing a surge in COVID variants, as it’s not yet known how effective vaccines are against them. If any of this is the case, you may want to continue taking precautions or waiting until the caseload drops in your area before meeting up unmasked.
But if you’re both in low-risk situations and fully vaccinated, it’s possible to safely and easily add another layer of intimacy to your relationship.
Being in each other’s home is safe
The CDC has said that it’s fine for fully vaccinated people to hang out unmasked in private spaces, which means that it’s safe for you and a vaccinated match to be in one another’s homes. If you’re fully vaccinated but your date is not, it’s still safe as long as they’re the only person you see who isn’t vaccinated. However, if you’re coming into close, unmasked contact with multiple unvaccinated people, then you’re better off steering clear of indoor interactions. COVID spreads much more easily indoors because of the reduced airflow (compared to outdoors). Experts currently believe that the more unvaccinated people you see in these spaces, the more likely it is that if you could contract COVID and spread it to someone else who is not yet inoculated by vaccination.
The goal is harm reduction—in other words, analyzing how you can reduce the impact of what you’re doing on other people, as much as that’s possible. So consider who you see, who your date sees, and who is or isn’t vaccinated to determine whether you’ll want to get tested or quarantine before or after a hookup.
While it might seem strange when considering a new love connection, “one of the safest things you can do is to be one-on-one with another vaccinated person in a private home,” says Dr. Landon. This might feel a little weird after a year of pandemic solitude, but being alone together guarantees you’re not exposed to anyone else while unmasked. (Of course, this is provided that you feel comfortable being alone with a new partner in private—if not, there’s nothing wrong with sticking to outdoor dates until you do!)
Sex doesn’t increase your COVID risk
When it comes down to it, sex itself isn’t the big risk in terms of speading COVID. “The real big decision is taking the mask off,” says Dr. Landon. “Once you’ve made that decision, you’ve gotten into ‘COVID bed’ with them.” Luckily, who else is in your ‘COVID-bed’ isn’t much of a concern for vaccinated folks—in other words, you don’t have to use taking the mask off as a moment to determine whether you’re exclusively hooking up or not. “If you’re with another fully vaccinated person and you’re confident in [the fact that they’re vaccinated], I don’t think you need to worry about what else they are doing,” says Dr. Kelley.
And once you’re both vaccinated, you’re free to pursue physical intimacy like hand-holding, kissing, and sex whenever you’re ready. “I’m not very concerned about what you decide to do in the bedroom,” says Dr. Landon. “You’re not saving any COVID risk if you’re making out versus having sex. If you’re both vaccinated, go for it.” Dr. Kelley agrees. “The virus is not transmitted sexually,” she says. “Having sex is no more dangerous than kissing or holding hands. Fully vaccinated people can do what they please.” (This is, of course, only as far as COVID risk is concerned: safe sex and full consent are, as always, still extremely important!)
While it might feel psychologically and emotionally intense to be intimate with someone new after a year of pandemic life, if you’re both fully vaccinated, from a public health standpoint there’s not much to worry about. “The risk of a vaccinated person carrying the virus is extremely low, and even if that was happening, the possibility that they could transmit the virus to you is also really low because you’re protected by your vaccine,” says Dr. Kelley. “Put those super, super low things together, and I say have a good time.”