British Columbia

The BCCDC has frank new guidelines for sex during a pandemic

The public health agency in British Columbia has updated its list of tips for sex and intimacy during the pandemic, with detailed guidelines and frank advice for keeping you and your partner(s) safe.

Public health agency says masturbation is the most risk-free choice

Two people kiss in a public park near the Vancouver seawall. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

The public health agency in British Columbia has updated its list of tips for sex and intimacy during the pandemic, with detailed guidelines and frank advice for keeping you and your partner safe.

The fact sheet from the B.C. Centre for Disease Control (BCCDC) said masturbation is the most risk-free choice — "you are your safest partner" — and that your next-safest sex partner is someone in your household, or someone who has close contact with you and nobody else. 

But officials have also acknowledged not everyone has sex exclusively with a single, live-in partner. 

"If that were a realistic proposition, I probably wouldn't have a job in the first place," said Nicole Pasquino, the clinical practice director at Options for Sexual Health, which works closely with the BCCDC.

For those seeking companionship outside their immediate bubble, the centre said virtual sex carries zero risk of spreading COVID-19. Video dates, phone chats, sexting, online chat rooms and group webcam rooms are all options, though people and their partners should educate themselves on the security risks of online sex before logging on. 

People who are dating or having casual sex should avoid kissing and wear a mask, as "heavy breathing during sex can create more droplets that may transmit COVID-19."

The centre recommended choosing sexual positions that limits face-to-face contact. It said condoms, lubricant and dental dams should be used to reduce contact with saliva, semen and feces during sex. (The virus has been found in semen and feces, but it is not yet clear if the coronavirus can be sexually transmitted.)

"Use barriers, like walls (e.g., glory holes), that allow for sexual contact but prevent close face-to-face contact," the guidelines state.

'There's always going to be some jest'

The tips are direct and clear.

The full list, particularly the lattermost point, drew significant attention online Tuesday after a screenshot was posted on Twitter. Public health authorities in Europe and multiple U.S. states have seen similar reactions when they published their own advice.

"When guidelines come out and there's discussion around glory holes and meeting people online or virtual masturbation or mutual masturbation ... There's always going to be some jest," said Pasquino, who has worked in sexual health for 15 years.

"This is nothing new to sexual health. We talk about harm reduction and minimizing risk all the time, way before the pandemic ever came," she said. "What it's about is keeping people safe."

Pasquino said there is a concern the public will not seek sexual health care during the pandemic because there is a shame that comes with flouting physical distancing or having a sex life outside traditional norms.

But, she says, people are going to keep having sex and it's important to keep the public access services without judgment.

"I think the worst thing we can ever do is shame people," she said. "Sex is an important part of all people's lives and it's not something that's just going to stop when there's a pandemic, nor should it for some people that are able to continue in a low-risk way.

"The more messaging, the better."

The BCCDC also has guidance for sex workers.

LISTEN: The education director with Options for Sexual Health, Kristen Gilbert, discusses the BCCDC's new guidelines on sex during the pandemic:

Options for Sexual Health education director Kristen Gilbert speaks with Stephen Quinn about the BC Centre for Disease Control 9:03

With files from Alex Migdal

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