Risky sexual behaviour, STIs high despite pandemic; ways to practice safe sex during COVID-19

Although diseases like syphilis are treatable, getting a proper diagnosis, medical care and treatment during the pandemic could be more difficult, hence the renewed need to refrain from engaging in risky sexual behaviour.

Myupchar November 02, 2020 14:48:40 IST
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Risky sexual behaviour, STIs high despite pandemic; ways to practice safe sex during COVID-19

Teenage couple kissing. Image courtesy Silar/Wikimedia Commons

The COVID-19 pandemic and the lockdowns imposed in an effort to control it have shifted our priorities and necessities in life. Following social distancing and maintaining respiratory hygiene by wearing masks and hand hygiene by sanitizing or washing hands regularly have become the new normal. The inclusion of these healthy practices to prevent the transmission of infections is necessary for all aspects of life, even before, during and after sex.

How the pandemic affected sex

Since the very beginning of the pandemic, doctors and health experts have not only tried to answer questions people may have about the link between sex and COVID-19 but have also tried to provide safety guidelines which can help people engage in sexual activity without getting any infections - even sexually transmitted ones. The fear of COVID-19 did regulate sexual behaviour to a large extent in some parts of the world, as a study published in the Journal of Sexual Medicine in July 2020 indicated.

The China-based study showed that not only had there been a decrease in the number of sexual partners but also in the frequency of sex, therefore showing that risky sexual behaviour was also reduced. However, this study had a small convenience sample of 270 men and 189 women who completed an online survey only. Their actual health status and if they had contracted any sexually transmitted infections (STIs) is not elucidated by this study.

Increased risky sexual behaviour during COVID-19

New research presented recently at the European Academy of Dermatology and Venereology (EADV) 2020 virtual congress indicates that the data coming out of STI centres during the pandemic showed an increase in risky sexual behaviour and incidence of STIs. This study collected data from STI centres in Milan, Italy between 15 March 2020 and 14 April 2020, while lockdowns were imposed in the country to control the spread of COVID-19 . The collected data was then compared with data gathered during the same period in 2019.

The researchers found that although there was a reduction in the visits to the centres by almost 37 percent in 2020, the total number of acute bacterial infections had increased during the observation period. This higher incidence of bacterial infections, including secondary syphilis, mycoplasma genitalium (MG) and gonorrhoea, was observed mostly in men who have sex with men. The study also noted, however, that non-acute STIs like genital warts and molluscum contagiosum had decreased.

The scientists, therefore, concluded that risky sexual behaviours that led to acute cases of STIs were actually increasing during the COVID-19 lockdown period. Although diseases like syphilis are treatable, getting a proper diagnosis, medical care and treatment during the pandemic could be more difficult, hence the renewed need to refrain from engaging in risky sexual behaviour. Equally important is the need to follow sexual health guidelines and report early symptoms to your primary healthcare provider.

Safe sex practices during the COVID-19 pandemic

As a recent study published in Sexual Medicine in September 2020 indicates, research into the sexual transmission of the SARS-CoV-2 virus is still very sparse, further highlighting the fact that extra care and precautions are needed. The following are some safe sex practices recommended in a July 2020 study published in the Journal of Clinical Medicine:

  • Tongue kissing and oral sex should be avoided at all costs.
  • Autoerotic growth (self-stimulation) and masturbation are recommended by this study while reiterating the recommendation from the New York Department of Health - “You are your safest sexual partner.”
  • Whenever you have sex with your partner, ensure the use of protection through male or female condoms, dental dams, etc.
  • In case you and your sexual partner live in the same household, it is safe to have sex while using protection if neither of you has any infections or any symptoms of infections.
  • In case you or your sexual partner have symptoms of or are diagnosed with COVID-19 or an STI, quarantine and refrain from any sexual activity until your doctor says resumption is fine.
  • In case you and your sexual partner do not live in the same household, it’s recommended that you maintain absolute hygiene and protection during sex. If either or both have symptoms of or are diagnosed with COVID-19 or an STI, communicate this immediately to all sexual partners and recommend quarantine and care for all.

For more information, read our article on Sex in the time of COVID-19

Health articles in Firstpost are written by myUpchar.com, India’s first and biggest resource for verified medical information. At myUpchar, researchers and journalists work with doctors to bring you information on all things health.

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