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While it’s definitely not a 6-feet-away type of activity, researchers at the University of Utah have found that it’s unlikely you can transmit the coronavirus through sex.
Now all you have to do is figure out how to set the stage for romance with your partner while being stuck at home in the middle of a pandemic.
The U. study, published this month in the medical journal Fertility and Sterility, is part of a wider look at how COVID-19 spreads. So far, scientists have determined that a person catches the disease primarily by breathing in respiratory droplets from someone who is infected, such as through a cough or sneeze or even heavy exhaling — and, yes, kissing.
But the unknown was whether it could specifically be transmitted through other bodily fluids, particularly semen.
Other similar airborne pathogens, such as Ebola or Zika, have also been contracted through sex. That can dramatically increase the rate of contagion, particularly among people who don’t show symptoms. And it has had medical professionals particularly concerned during this outbreak.
“If a disease like COVID-19 were sexually transmittable, that would have major implications for disease prevention,” said one of the U. researchers, James Hotaling, who specializes in male urology.
Hotaling and Jingtao Guo at the U. participated in an international study with other scientists, including some from Cornell and Columbia universities, that examined the virus by testing the semen and testes of men who had contracted it. The subjects were 34 adult men in Wuhan, China, where the outbreak first started, ranging in age from 18 to 55. All had tested positive for the virus at least two months before the study.
None of the samples, though, carried any trace of the disease.
“Knowing that we didn’t find that kind of activity among the patients in this study who were recovering from mild to moderate forms of the disease is reassuring,” Hotaling added.
That’s good news. But he still cautions that the virus can be spread through other intimate contact, which is why the recommendation is to socially distance and stay 6 feet away from others when possible.
“It almost certainly would be transmitted if you’re kissing someone,” he said.
It’s advised, then, that partners wanting to have sex do so only if they’re already staying in the same household and neither has potentially been exposed to the coronavirus. And the other rules for safe sex still apply — meaning other sexually transmitted diseases obviously remain possible.
The study, too, was based on a small sample size, so it’s not comprehensive. None of the subjects had a severe case of COVID-19, which could potentially lead to a higher viral load in semen. And all were men.
Meanwhile, though, another study published in the journal Clinical Infectious Diseases studied vaginal fluid and found there also wasn’t any trace of the virus there either. So sexual relationships between any partners, regardless of whether they are men or women, shouldn’t be contagious.
Guo said they hope to do further research, supported by the American Society of Reproductive Medicine, on whether the virus could still impact sperm counts or hormone levels in the long term. “We are still in the process of collaborating to hopefully conduct some follow-up studies,” he noted. “This has really significant public health relevance.”
But even with the limitations, the possibility of transmitting the disease through sex remains remote, he noted — even if these aren’t the sexiest times.