By Verneda Adele White
If you are a woman like me, smart, a self-starter, black, beautiful as we all are, and currently single, you may have found yourself navigating the impact of the novel Coronavirus (i.e. Covid-19) as it took a toll on your sex and dating life over the last several weeks. On the other hand, whether you have been seeing someone(s) regularly, are in a relationship, or married, the staying power of quarantine has still brought up questions about how and when we can have sex and enjoy it (NO SHADE!) without furthering the spread of the virus. Fortunately, on April 28, we saw several answers brought to light as four phenomenal women took to Instagram Live in partnership with Housing Works x MadameNoire to create a safe space for dialogue, and take the much-needed conversation about sex and Covid-19 to a place of empowerment.
The third installment of “WOC x WOC: Our Voices, Our Health, Ourselves” IG Live Conversations, featuring Brande Victorian, Senior Content Director, Women’s Division at Interactive One, Dr. Oni Blackstock, Assistant Commissioner of the Bureau of HIV for the New York City Department of Health (NYC-DOH), Jamilah Lemieux, Writer / Cultural Critic, and moderated by myself as the series’ Executive Producer, went virtual following two impactful in-person events focused on HIV and women of color in summer 2019. This time, viewers were encouraged to know they are not alone in discovering this new world of Covid-19 as a “sexually associated infection,” with topics covering everything from safer sex practices for engaging with a partner, and self-care for your personal #quarantineandchill, to addressing stigma and HIV/AIDS including information on PrEP and PEP.
Here are a few of the top tips when it comes to sex and Covid-19.
1.The “Sex and Coronavirus Disease 2019” guidelines released by the NYC-Department Of Health in late March are a great resource to start with, and the guidelines are impressively sex-positive, keeping it all the way real. A few highlights to keep ourselves safe:
- You are your safest sex partner. (i.e. masturbation; wash your hands, sex toys and disinfect keyboards or tablets, before and after sex.)
- The next safest partner is someone you live with (i.e. have as few partners as possible, and avoid sex with anyone outside your household.)
- If you usually meet your sex partners online or make a living by having sex, consider taking a break from in-person dates/anonymous partners opting for virtual dates instead.
- Kissing and rimming (mouth on anus) can easily pass Covid-19 as the virus is found in saliva, mucus and feces, although condoms and dental dams can reduce contact with saliva or feces, especially during oral or anal sex.
- Skip sex if you or your partner is not feeling well and/or if you or your partner has an underlying medical condition that can lead to more severe COVID-19.
2. Regarding underlying conditions, Covid-19 has disproportionately impacted Black and brown people across the nation in ways similar to the historical disproportionate impact of HIV/AIDS on communities of color, especially women of color. While it was awesome to hear from Dr. Blackstock that a person living with HIV is not at a significantly greater risk of death when testing positive for Coronavirus, as long as the person has been diligent with managing their HIV (i.e. undetectable), unfortunately according to the 2018 HIV Surveillance Annual Report from NYC-DOH:
- 89.4% of new HIV diagnoses among all women in NYC are Black and Latinx
- Black women account for the majority (63%) of new HIV diagnoses among women in NYC, with the age group most impacted being 20 – 29 year olds
As women of color we must take responsibility to self-advocate and empower ourselves and our communities when it comes to taking action around Covid-19, sex and HIV/AIDS. This includes support of transgender women and men, and young gay males of color, all members of our communities focused on in Tuesday’s conversation. Covid-19 has further exposed the many disparities within health, race, and socio-economic status, and sex is no different. The onslaught of Covid-19 brings with it many more questions about sex for what is already a complex, multifaceted subject. To be honest we have just scratched the surface.
3. As stay at home orders begin to lift in parts of our country, we need to be smart. Be conscious of maintaining safety measures and social distancing. It is up to each of us to continue to make good choices for ourselves. As we heard from Ms. Lemieux, as doors open up, it just may be your time to be explorative with yourself for a little while longer. Whether planning for when we can freely go outside again, or your nights of swinging from a chandelier are already in progress, be mindful whenever you do break out, don’t hurt yourself: break out responsibly and safely.
For sexual wellness services during the Covid-19 pandemic, including HIV and STI testing and treatment, visit https://healthcare.housingworks.org/.