During the pandemic, the safest sexual activities are solo-sex/masturbation or virtual sex (via phone, Facetime, Zoom, etc.).
If you choose to engage in in-person partnered sexual activities, it is recommended that you only have one partner and agree to be monogamous with each other. When engaging in sexual activity, wearing a face covering, avoiding kissing, and washing hands thoroughly before and after sex will help prevent the spread of infection. It’s best to skip sexual activity if you or your partner feel unwell or have felt unwell recently.
If your ongoing or potential partner is currently in either isolation (gotten a positive COVID test) or in quarantine (has been possibly exposed to COVID), you both need to wait until the full isolation or quarantine period is up. Try sexting or virtual chatting in the meantime to avoid transmitting the virus.
Right now, it’s more important than ever to discuss what safer sex looks like for both of you before taking off your clothes or your face covering. When were you and your partner last tested for COVID or for HIV? What have you done since then that might be risky? What does safer sex look like for you during COVID? Let your partner know what will make you feel comfortable and cared for. You can find tips for communication below.
More information can be found at https://www.plannedparenthood.org/learn/health-and-wellness/covid-19-new-coronavirus/covid-19-and-your-sexual-health.
- Communication and sexual decision-making
- Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs) and barrier methods
When it comes to sexual health, decision-making and communication are key. It is important to understand if you feel ready to have sex and, if so, be able to communicate your desires, needs, and personal boundaries to potential sexual partners.
Below are some considerations for effective communication for all types of relationships, sexual or otherwise. Communicating with potential partners about engaging or not engaging in sexual activity, personal boundaries, using protection, getting tested, etc. will lead to better intimacy and sex.
There are 3 basic tenets of good communication:
To be an active listener:
- Intently pay attention to what someone else says.
- Acknowledge that you are listening and really hearing what the person is saying.
- Avoid interjecting or waiting for your chance to respond.
Using "I statements”
When we start off by telling someone what they are doing wrong, it can feel like an attack. To allow for a more open and fruitful discussion:
- Express observations.
- Validate what you like, especially before mentioning something you don't like.
- Use the “sandwich” method by saying something negative in between two positives.
Finding the right time
Decision-making, especially about sexual health, is best done when you are not in the heat of the moment or when you are stressed, upset or angry.
- Try to find appropriate time to have the conversation (i.e., when not engaging in sexual activity, relaxed time).
- Consider planning what you want to say beforehand.
Abstinence is abstaining from sexual activity, whether it is from a certain act or multiple acts, or from all sexual activity.
- Being abstinent is a personal choice. What it means to each individual varies.
- You can be abstinent for any reason and for any length of time. You can choose to be abstinent after previously being sexually active.
Given that sexual activity is never 100% safe from sexually transmitted infections (STIs), complete abstinence from all sexual activity is the only way to fully protect yourself from contracting a STI and/or becoming pregnant or causing a pregnancy.
Sexual activity (which includes manual sex, oral sex, anal intercourse, vaginal intercourse, and sharing sex toys with a partner) is never 100% safe from sexually transmitted infections (STIs), and STIs have been diagnosed among Princeton students. Learn more about clinical information on common STIs among college students.
It’s important to understand how to protect yourself against STIs when engaging in sexual activity. Complete abstinence from all sexual activity is the only way to fully protect yourself from contracting an STI, but there are a number of barrier methods that can help reduce your risk.
- External (male) condom
- Internal (female) condom
- Dental dam
- Gloves/finger cots (available at the LGBT Center only)
If you or your partner(s) are allergic to latex, there are alternatives (e.g., polyurethane, nitrile). Free safer sex supplies are also available from Residential College Advisers, Peer Health Advisers (PHAs) and for purchase at the U-Store, C-Store, or CVS.
Explore which barrier methods are recommended for certain sexual activities.
Specific STIs and Testing
Familiarize yourself with symptoms of common STIs so you know when to be concerned and can get tested. Some STIs can produce no symptoms, so regular testing is recommended for individuals with certain risk-factors. Sexual Health and Wellness provides testing for:
- Chlamydia and Gonorrhea
- Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV)
- Other STIs, as indicated
Since it is possible to be infected without experiencing symptoms, if you do not know your STI status from testing or you are even questioning whether you might have an STI, avoid engaging in sexual activity with a partner until you know your status.
Contraceptive methods, or birth control, help prevent pregnancy. When these methods are combined with barrier methods, such as internal or external condoms, it provides the best protection against both STIs and pregnancy. Abstinence is the only 100% way to protect yourself from pregnancy and STIs.
There are many different types of birth control:
- Long-acting reversible contraception (LARCS) includes intrauterine devices (IUDs) and subdermal implants. All LARCs, excluding Paragard IUD, are hormonal. These methods last from 3 to 12 years, depending upon the type.
- Other hormonal methods include birth control pills, vaginal rings, contraceptive patches, and the Depo-Provera shot.
- Barrier methods, such as condoms and diaphragms, are also options. They are non-hormonal.
Emergency contraception is available 24/7 at UHS, by appointment during regular hours and through the Infirmary after business hours.
Emergency Contraception ("Morning After Pill")
- It can be taken within a 3-5 day window, depending on the type. The earlier it is taken, the more effective it will be.
- The Paragard IUD can also be used as emergency contraception.
Learn more about emergency contraception and where to access it off-campus through the Emergency Contraception website operated by Princeton University’s Office of Population Research.
Sexual Health and Wellness (SHAW): information, support, referrals and services related to sexual and reproductive health
Peer Health Advisers: peer education and programming, and safer sex supplies
Princeton Students for Reproductive Justice (PSRJ) Guide to McCosh (PDF): a guide to the reproductive and sexual health services offered by University Health Services
Planned Parenthood:sex education, and preventive and primary care for reproductive health
SexPositive App: a sex education mobile app available for iPhone and Android.
Healthy Bodies, Safer Sex: a useful resource for trans*, non-binary and gender nonconforming people and their partners.