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Guest Opinion: Vaccinated and horny: Now what?

by Alan Lessik

It may be awhile before sexy crowds return like this Gus Presents MLK weekend party in 2017, but people, especially those who are vaccinated, can begin talking with their partners and others about sex and risk associated with the pandemic. Photo: Steven Underhill
It may be awhile before sexy crowds return like this Gus Presents MLK weekend party in 2017, but people, especially those who are vaccinated, can begin talking with their partners and others about sex and risk associated with the pandemic. Photo: Steven Underhill  

In a long year for our community since the beginning of COVID, we have experienced lockdowns, loneliness, fear, and grieving as we mourned our lack of connection and intimacy. During this period, we first flattened the curve and then helplessly watched the wave of infections inundate us. Yet at the same time, we rediscovered community through Zoom and social media as well as experimented with celibacy, self-pleasuring, sex-toy shopping, and the development of pods and COVID sex buddies. So now the day has arrived, you have just received your second dose of Moderna or Pfizer or the single shot of Johnson & Johnson and your mind begins to race, "I'm safe, so let's go at it again."

One consistent aspect of COVID has been that simple answers and clear-cut pathways are not part of this virus. Even with vaccinations, we are back to assessing the risks and the ethical considerations of intimacy and connecting sexually.

Let's look at what we know. Two weeks after the second vaccine injection, the disease prevention efficacy is extremely high. This efficacy lasts at least for a few months and as time goes on, we will find out how long-lasting it is. Medical experts say that those vaccinated still can possibly contract COVID, but that the disease should be non-life-threatening and manageable. It is also potentially possible to be an asymptomatic carrier of COVID. There are a number of variants of COVID circulating and the efficacy of the current vaccines are being tested against them. For these reasons, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is recommending not to change our public behaviors of wearing face masks and maintaining social distance. We still need to do our part to stem the spread in the community.

Some queer folks have invested time and energy into pods or partners and have imposed their own guidelines for COVID-related safety behaviors within the group. Others have chosen celibacy. The common thread is that we are survivors of this pandemic and have successfully negotiated the obstacles over the last year to maintain our health. We have all learned to differentiate public from private behaviors. Now the vaccine is offering new opportunities.

Although they do not directly address sex, the latest CDC guidelines say that small groups of people who are inoculated can get together relatively safely. This creates the possibility for greater intimacy and sexual adventure again. For many of us who previously assessed the risks, and decided to have sex as safely as possible, the door opens further.

The lowest risk exists in interactions with folks who are vaccinated. If you know your potential sex partners well, trusting their status should be easy. But for others, should you ask to see their vaccination card? That may be a reasonable idea, but knowing that anything can be counterfeited, it may not be foolproof and one should always chat before acting on desires. At this moment, members of our community over 65 have access to inoculations, as well as essential workers and teachers. (On Monday, vaccinations were opened to more people, including those living with HIV and other medical conditions.) So it may be a time to check in with an elder, Daddy, or essential worker for a safer sex partner.

With an HIV analogy from U=U (undetectable = untransmittable), any risk among people that have been vaccinated should be extremely low. Until we know more, there remains a possibility of catching or spreading COVID, but little chance of dying from it.

The risk factor is greater for an unvaccinated person having sex with someone who has been vaccinated. The possibility that a vaccinated person can still carry the virus must be considered. Using the same precautions for unvaccinated partners will reduce this risk.

The highest risks remain unchanged between unvaccinated persons. Conversation around risk, mitigating behavior, testing, and self-quarantining are still the way to assess and decide on what you may feel comfortable in doing together.

In all cases, we need to talk frankly with our potential sex partners and be aware of other risk factors, including others in their life who may not be inoculated yet. Some vaccinated people are waiting until other members of their household get their shots before they indulge. We are making decisions not only about ourselves, but our close relationships and the broader community.

This last year has been hard on queer folks and for some without partners or access to a pod, it has been extremely isolating. We have been warned not to touch people and to give each other space when meeting in public or private areas. And since kissing and hugging even were forbidden, it might take a while to feel safe around intimacy. Remember this as you begin to interact again. Your potential partner or partners may react with caution and throw up unexpected emotional barriers. Take the time to check in with each other and take it at the pace that you all are comfortable.

With years of discrimination and stigma focused on HIV status, there is some concern that we might have to relive some versions of that fight again. We have to remember that our present situation is different than HIV/AIDS. As San Francisco Department of Public Health says, "People are not positive or negative. Tests are ... remember that we are often doing our best under difficult circumstances to keep ourselves and others as safe as we can. When it comes to COVID-19, we are all in this together."

Unlike HIV/AIDS, any division regarding vaccination status will be temporary. In this early stage, many people are not yet eligible, but by June, most people should have access to vaccinations. Over the next three months, as more and more people are inoculated, many of these considerations will start to fade. Potentially we can look forward to larger gatherings again, like the Folsom Street Fair, as well as the reopening of bars, clubs, and sex venues. Hopefully then, we will be able to look back at this year as the year we survived and transformed our community once again.

Alan Lessik is a writer, Zen practitioner, amateur figure skater, and LGBTQ activist. His debut novel, "The Troubleseeker" (Chelsea Station Editions), was short-listed for the Publishing Triangle's 2017 Ferro-Grumley Award for LGBTQ Fiction. His nonfiction works and essays have been published by the Bay Area Reporter, Lambda Literary, KQED, the Advocate, and San Francisco Bay Guardian. Lessik is on the board of the LGBTQ Writers Caucus of the Association of Writers and Writing Programs. Follow him at https://alanlessik.com/

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