Trying to hook up with someone outside of your pod here at Month 12 of the coronavirus pandemic with Valentine’s Day looming?

If so, you’re not alone, and there’s no need for shame. But there are precautions you should take: Wear a mask (or two), avoid kissing and embrace the novelty and kink of positions and barriers that keep your faces far from each other, public health departments across the country are advising.

“It’s one thing to ask people to be abstinent for a short time when we thought this would be over soon, but it’s not reasonable to ask people to abstain for a year,” said Dr. Joanne Stekler, an infectious disease physician at UW Medicine who specializes in HIV prevention.

Stekler emphasized what public health departments are saying: You are your own safest physical partner, and people in your pod are the next safest. Cybersex is also safe, but she also acknowledged that, for many, those options may not work as we’re near COVID’s one-year anniversary.

“Yes, this is harm reduction, but given that we are human beings, the goal is to reduce the risk of transmission,” Stekler said in a phone interview this week.

“Our sex clubs (in Seattle) are open again and people are having sex, but they have mask requirements.”

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Stekler said kissing is one of the most risky things you can do right now because coronavirus is transmitted through saliva, mucus and breath. It has been found in the feces of some infected people, but there have been no known transmissions through vaginal or anal sex.

The British Columbia Centre for Disease Control offers another alternative: “Use barriers, like walls (e.g., glory holes), that allow for sexual contact but prevent close face-to-face contact.”

Here’s some tips from KQED on how to best reduce the risk:

  • Wear a mask, both of you.
  • Choose positions that minimize face-to-face contact.
  • Wash up really well, both before and after sex. You cannot “absorb” the coronavirus through your skin, but you might touch your skin and then touch your face. If you’re using sex toys, wash those with soap and warm water.
  • Using condoms and other barriers: Wearing a condom during sex will decrease your exposure to saliva or feces. For oral sex, using a condom or dental dam similarly provides a barrier. This is especially important for any anal contact.
  • Keep it quick: Minimizing the length of a sexual encounter is a harm-reduction strategy in how it’s reducing the amount of time you’re potentially being exposed to the virus.
  • Consider things that don’t exchange fluids: Mutual masturbation could be considered a harm-reduction strategy, Cohen says. But don’t forget that if you’re simultaneously making out, “that could actually be higher risk than a quick session of oral sex,” she says.
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