Guest Opinion: 6 questions to ask before having sex again
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[Editor's note: This is an update to the Guest Opinion Mr. Lessik wrote in April, "Sex in the time of COVID-19"].
If you were locked down over the last several months with your partner or partners, intimacy has likely been a key part of quarantine survival. But for those of us who are single or in non-monogamous relationships, our ability to attend to our emotional and sexual health needs was severely diminished. Abstinence or pleasuring ourselves with video, chats, sex toys, porn, and our own imaginations kept us safe and alive. Now many of us are wondering how to reconnect in real time.
Over the last six months, we have been following public guidelines to reduce exposure. In June, the New York City Health Department issued recommendations on sex and the coronavirus stating, "If you do have sex with others outside of your household, have as few partners as possible and pick partners you trust." https://www1.nyc.gov/assets/doh/downloads/pdf/imm/covid-sex-guidance.pdf
In these lockdown months, maybe you met someone online or reconnected with a previous sex partner. Or perhaps, you have chatted with folks about starting a pod for more safely managing sexual contact. After months of texting or video chats, you are itching to meet in-person. While you may have already figured out all of the things you want to do, before you can safely hookup, you need to have at least one more conversation. The following six questions will guide you and your potential partner(s) as you talk about consent and risk-taking. There are no right or wrong answers. And as I was to find out, the honesty and openness of the conversation deepened the real intimacy I was seeking.
1. With whom, if anyone, have you been sheltering-in place? Your interactions with any household member mean being exposed to others or exposing them to you. Share information about your daily contacts with the people in your household, highlighting any of them more vulnerable due to age, health, or other factors. And be aware that circumstances can change, as it did for me when a partner's parent had emergency surgery, causing us to put a brake on meeting.
2. Have either of you had any symptoms in the last 14 days? Those symptoms include, but are not limited to: fever, cough, sore throat, shortness of breath, and loss of smell or taste. My seasonal allergies have some of the same symptoms, so I made sure my partner knew about that in advance so my sniffles would not be off-putting.
3. Have you been in direct contact and/or sex with someone diagnosed with COVID-19 or someone who is undiagnosed but is symptomatic? While most people with COVID-19 have symptoms, asymptomatic spread is possible. Generally, if you are healthy after 14 days of any type of exposure or possible exposure (e.g., if you have been in any large protests recently), your chances are low that you carry the virus.
4. What masking, social distancing, and health protocols do each of you follow? People have wide variations in how they handle these basic protocols and you want to share how you attend to them. While the guy I was talking to had similar standards, they were not exactly the same as mine. We had to make sure each of was comfortable with the other. For example, my socially distanced participation in recent protests caused my friend to require that I get tested before we met up again.
5. Have you been diagnosed with COVID-19 using a nasal swab or saliva PCR test or tested for COVID antibodies? Testing is only useful if you can get results back quickly. I was lucky to get my PCR test results in 24 hours, but if you have to wait a week or more and you have been out and about, the results will not mean much. According to the New York Public Health Department, "people who have recovered from COVID-19 at least 10 days from the day their symptoms started and who have not had fever for at least three days are likely no longer infectious." Currently, the length and type of immunity antibodies might confer is unknown. With low reliability rates, antibody tests may be worthless. However, in the future we should know more.
6. Given that a person could be asymptomatic and still infect others, how do you feel about that risk? This might be the toughest question, in that it addresses your risk-taking/adverseness. While attending to all of the health protocols above will significantly lower the possibility of infection, there is still some risk through asymptomatic exposure. My friend and I talked about our willingness to address this unknown exposure. Since both of us had been going shopping and cautiously participating in the outside world, we had already known that we were taking some chances that others did not.
After this discussion, we felt a base for honesty and compassion had been established between us. Yet, one can hear all of the "right" answers and still decide that they are not ready. On the other hand, when desire takes over, data can be thrown out in the rush. We gave ourselves more time to ponder the risks and our desires before making a decision.
When we decided to give it a shot, we went on to the bonus question: What types of sexual practices do you enjoy and what would be off-limits, at least in the beginning?
Remember, the virus can only be passed if any of the participants are currently infected. For me, we knew enough to trust each other during this time. Honesty is hot. Our conversations about COVID-19 have not stopped but now they include much more.
Sex, safety, and intimacy are still possible in our COVID-19 world.
Alan Lessik is a writer, Zen practitioner, amateur figure skater, LGBTQ activist, and former nonprofit leader. 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 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 and has moderated panels about queer writing in the last three national conferences. He is a member of the National Writers Union. Follow him at http://www.alanlessik.com
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