Sex and coronavirus (COVID-19)

COVID-19 is an illness that can affect your lungs and airways. It's caused by a virus called coronavirus.

To help stop the spread of COVID-19, everyone has been asked to continue to follow the health advice on hse.ie. 

While there is no evidence that COVID-19 can be sexually transmitted, it can be passed on through close contact with someone who has the virus.

It is important to maintain proper handwashing, respiratory hygiene and comply with current government guidelines. If you have any symptoms, phone your GP or Out of Hours services to discuss. If you are feeling very unwell, phone 112 or 999.

COVID-19 vaccine

Getting the COVID-19 vaccine will allow you to be safer when engaging in relationships and sexual activity.

People who are fully vaccinated and are well can meet other people without face coverings and do not need to stay 2 metres apart. See here for more information.

If you have had COVID-19 (a positive diagnostic test) is unlikely you will get it again within nine months after being infected.

If you have symptoms of COVID-19 you should get tested, even if you are vaccinated or have had it before. Avoid sexual activity and close contact with others when you have symptoms.

There is no evidence that COVID-19 vaccination affects fertility

Reduce the risk of COVID-19 during sex

COVID-19 can be passed from person-to-person, who may or may not have symptoms, during close and intimate contact. Being sexually active with another person involves some risk of COVID-19 transmission, especially as you may not know if someone has COVID-19 if they have no symptoms.

If you or your sexual partner is unwell avoid sexual activity and close contact.

Remember: you can reduce your risk of COVID-19 by:

  • Getting the COVID-19 vaccine if you have not been vaccinated.
  • Washing your hands thoroughly with soap and water for at least 20 seconds before and after sexual activity.
  • Limiting sexual activity to as few partners as possible, preferably one regular partner
  • Avoiding sexual activity and close contact If you or your sexual partner is unwell

When to consider avoiding sex

Avoid sexual activity and especially kissing if you or your partner has symptoms of COVID-19, such as fever- including chills, dry cough, fatigue, sore throat, shortness of breath or changes to your sense of smell or taste. Anyone with any symptoms of COVID-19 should self-isolate(stay in your room) and get a COVID-19 PCR test. You can do this by phoning a GP or you can book a test online.

If you have been identified as a close contact of COVID-19 you should follow the advice you have been given by contact tracing or public health.

If you test positive for COVID-19 avoid sexual activity and close contact until your self-isolation period is over and you are well. If your results are reported as ‘not detected’ keep in mind a ‘not detected’ result means that the virus was not found in that sample, someone may have been exposed after their test was taken or have had very low levels of virus that weren’t picked up. You can read more about this here.

It’s important to be particularly careful if you or your sexual partner has an underlying medical condition, as you are more likely to become very ill if you get COVID-19. These include lung disease, chronic heart disease, diabetes, cancer, obesity, or a weakened immune system. Find out more about at-risk groups.

Safer sex practices

As well as protecting yourself from COVID-19, it is important to take the usual safer sex precautions to protect yourself from unplanned pregnancy, STIs and HIV.

  • Always use a condom. Condoms give the best protection against STIs and are 98% effective against pregnancy when you use them correctly and every time you have sex.
  • Use hormonal contraception to prevent unplanned pregnancy. Talk to your pharmacist (chemist) or doctor about different methods of hormonal contraception. If your hormonal contraception prescription is due for renewal, your pharmacist may be able to provide you with an emergency supply of a month’s medication if it is safe and appropriate to do so, giving you time to arrange an appointment with your GP. Learn more about contraception here
  • The Emergency contraception pill (ECP) can be taken up to 5 days after unprotected sex to prevent unplanned pregnancy. The sooner you take it, the more effective it is. You can get the ECP without prescription from your local pharmacy. If you need the ECP, phone your pharmacist, who may be able to carry out the consultation over the phone. This will reduce the amount of time you will need to spend in the pharmacy. You must personally collect the ECP from the pharmacist. Learn more about emergency contraception here
  • Get tested for STIs if you have symptoms of an STI. While there continue to be some restrictions to public sexual health services, there are services available. Contact your local STI clinic or GP to book an STI test. Find out more about service availability here.

Get tested for STIs if you do not have symptoms of an STI. If you are resident in one of the counties listed here then you can order a free home STI testing kit here.

  • PrEP (pre-exposure prophylaxis) is medication that can help prevent HIV transmission if you are HIV negative and at substantial risk of acquiring HIV. Learn more about PrEP here
  • PEP (post exposure prophylaxis) is a course of medication that can help prevent HIV if you have been recently exposed to HIV. This is available through public STI clinics and in Emergency Departments. Find out more about PEP here.

There is no evidence to suggest that people on PrEP or HIV treatment have additional protection against COVID-19.

Sexual consent

Sexual activity should only ever be between consenting adults who have the legal capacity to make the decision.

The legal age of sexual consent in Ireland is 17, but age is only one aspect of what is required if sexual activity can be considered truly consensual.  Consent to sexual activity requires communication to make sure you and your partner understand each other and are in agreement about the sexual act. Read more about sexual consent in practice here

Remember: even if you consent to a sexual act, you can change your mind before the act begins or at any time before it ends.

Learn more about sexual consent here and the legal age of consent here.

Before deciding to engage in online sexual activity including sexting, consider the possible risks. There are a number of safety issues you should think through in advance. Read more about this here.

Sexual Health Services during the COVID-19 outbreak

STI Services

While there continue to be some restrictions to public sexual health services, there are services available.  Contact your local STI clinic or GP to book an STI test. Find out more about service availability here.   

Click here for information on the free home STI testing service.

Unplanned pregnancy services

My Options provides support and information for those experiencing an unplanned pregnancy. The service continues to operate as normal during this time. Freephone 1800 828 010 or visit myoptions.ie. 

HSE-funded unplanned pregnancy counselling services are now provided face to face and/ or remotely via video link or over the telephone. This will depend on your needs. They continue to provide the same level of service. You can find their contact details on myoptions.ie.

Abortion services

Abortion services continue to be provided. You can have your pre-abortion consultation by phone or video link. If the doctor needs to see you in person, they will tell you. You can find out which doctor in your area offers this service by calling the myoptions freephone helpline number at 1800 828 010.  Find out more information on myoptions.ie.

Other important information

For specific information on COVID-19 and sex for gay and bisexual men, transmen and other men who have sex with men, please see:

HIV Ireland has specific information for people living with HIV

Information for sex workers is available on Sexual Health Centre Cork's website.

Click here for 'A guide to navigating healthy relationships during the COVID-19 outbreak'.

This information was last updated on the 22nd October 2021 and is subject to change depending on evolving restrictions and evidence linked to COVID-19.