Sex and coronavirus (COVID-19)

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

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

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

Remember: Proper hand washing, respiratory hygiene and physical distancing are even more important as coronavirus restrictions are eased. Don’t ignore or delay seeking medical advice if you have symptoms. Phone your GP or Out of Hours services to discuss. If you are feeling very unwell, phone 112 or 999.

Reduce the risk of coronavirus during sex

You may not know if someone has coronavirus. Being sexually active with another person involves some risk of coronavirus transmission, especially as some people may have no symptoms while they are infectious. You can reduce this risk by following the advice below.

  • Only be sexually active with a partner living in your household.
  • If you decide to be sexually active with someone living outside of your household, limit it to as few partners as possible, preferably one regular partner.
  • Wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water for at least 20 seconds before and after sexual activity.
  • Consider masturbation or remote sexual activity as alternatives to physical sexual activity with partners. 

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.

Remember close sexual contact with anyone you are not living with can put you and others at risk of coronavirus.

When to consider avoiding sex

Avoid sexual activity and especially kissing if you or your partner has symptoms of coronavirus, such as fever, cough, shortness of breath or loss of smell or taste. Anyone with common symptoms of coronavirus should self-isolate and phone their GP or Out of Hours services straight away to get a coronavirus test.

If you have been identified as a close contact of a confirmed case of COVID-19, you will need to restrict your movements for 14 days after your last contact with the person who has COVID-19 and you will be referred for testing, even if you have no symptoms.

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 coronavirus. These include lung disease, 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 coronavirus, 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 or GP about different methods of hormonal contraception. If your hormonal contraception prescription is due for renewal, your pharmacist may be able to provide you with additional supplies if it is safe and appropriate to do so.
  • Emergency hormonal contraception (EHC) 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 EHC without prescription from your local pharmacy. If you need EHC, 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.
  • Get tested for STIs if you have symptoms of an STI. There have been restrictions to many public STI services during the coronavirus outbreak. Contact your local STI clinic or GP to check their testing service availability. 
  • PrEP (pre-exposure prophylaxis)is medication that can help prevent HIV transmission if you are HIV negative and at substantial risk of acquiring HIV.
  • PEP - If you have been recently exposed to HIV PEP (post exposure prophylaxis) is a course of HIV medication that can help to prevent HIV infection. This is available through public STI clinics and in Emergency Departments.

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

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. Consent to sexual activity requires communication to make sure you and your partner understand each other and are in agreement about the sexual act.

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

Read more about consent.

Sexual Health Services during the coronavirus outbreak

STI Services

Many public STI services are providing services at a limited capacity and others are not currently providing services due to coronavirus. Contact your local STI clinic or GP to check their testing service availability. Find out more about these restrictions

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, face-to-face unplanned pregnancy counselling services have moved their services to phone or remote support. They continue to provide the same level of service. You can find their contact details on myoptions.ie.

Abortion services

Abortion services will continue to be provided. During the current COVID-19 public health emergency, it may not be possible or suitable for you to attend a doctor in person to access abortion services. You can have your pre-abortion consultation by phone or video link with a doctor. Find out more information on myoptions.ie.

Other important information

For specific information on coronavirus 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 4 August 2020 and is subject to change depending on evolving restrictions and evidence linked to coronavirus.