In order to stop coronavirus, we have to know how it’s passed from person to person. Until recently, we were mostly blaming respiratory droplets — the liquid that you spray into the air when you talk, cough, or sneeze. But a brand-new study just discovered that another bodily fluid may contain the SARS-CoV-2 virus, too: semen.
That’s right. Genetic material from the coronavirus was present in ejaculate, according to a study published in the JAMA Network Open journal.
The researchers tested semen samples from 38 people, ages 15 to 59, who had tested positive for COVID-19. Genetic material from the virus was present in the semen of six patients — about 16%. Four of those people currently had the virus; two were in the process of recovering.
Before you freak out: Just because there are bits of the virus’s RNA in semen, it doesn’t mean that those bits are infectious, Dr. Stanley Perlman, a professor of microbiology, immunology, and pediatrics at the University of Iowa, told The New York Times. “This is an interesting finding, but it must be confirmed that there is infectious virus — not just a virus product in the semen,” he said.
If the virus can be transmitted through sex — and that’s a big if — it’ll be “another item on the long list of reasons to use a condom,” says Holly Richmond, PhD, a somatic psychologist and certified sex therapist. The study authors agree. “Abstinence or condom use might be considered as preventive means for these patients,” they wrote.
Of course, we already know that you could contract coronavirus other ways during sex — from holding hands, cuddling, or kissing. “I guess you could be having sex with a mask on, but that’s not super sexy,” Richmond says. That’s why the NYC Department of Health released a statement discouraging people from sleeping with anyone they weren’t in lockdown with, even going so far as to say that your safest sex partner right now is… yourself.
Experts have previously found evidence of the coronavirus in feces and urine, says Justin R. Garcia, acting executive director and research director at The Kinsey Institute for Research in Sex, Gender, and Reproduction. “I think this is a reminder that people need to think cautiously about the behavior they’re engaging in right now, whether that’s kissing or intercourse,” he says.
To sum up: This was a small, preliminary study, and way more research needs to be done to confirm whether COVID-19 may be sexually transmitted. But if you are sexually active, go ahead and start wearing a condom now anyway.
“If this can increase condom use, that’s great,” Richmond says. “COVID woke us all up to washing our hands, to sanitizing more things, and now it might be the reminder we needed about how important condom use is.”