As post-secondary students navigate their academic and social lives amid COVID-19, many young Canadians are concerned with having a safe dating life during the pandemic.
Although physical distancing limitations reduce opportunities for socializing, staying healthy and sexually active is not out of the question, said sexual health expert Jessica Wood, a lead researcher and sex expert at the Sex Information and Education Council of Canada. She emphasizes the importance of assessing the needs of your partner and the perimeters of one’s sex life to remain healthy and sexually active during the pandemic.
Wood recommends Canadians use risk-protective strategies with sexual partners like monitoring symptoms, reducing sexual partners to only individuals in your social bubble, using physically-distanced dating methods, and even wearing a mask during sex.
“We have to have important conversations with our partners about what our social bubbles look like … and an agreed-upon strategy that is grounded within safe guidelines that take into consideration case numbers, our relationships with other people and our comfort level,” Wood said.
Canada’s top doctor, Theresa Tam, also recommends wearing a mask when having sex with someone new to protect yourself against COVID-19.
Wood said she is wary of relying on this recommendation, fearing young Canadians will believe that if they are wearing a mask, they are free of the risk of getting COVID-19.
“It’s all about communication, communicating about your symptoms, your exposure, and comfortability with your partner,” Wood said.
Wood emphasizes the importance of limiting your sexual partners to those in your “social bubble,” a group of no more than 10 people who can interact with one another without physical distancing.
However, a recent news release from the Ontario government said it is “pausing social circles” and suggesting that all Ontarians only have close contact with those who live in the same household.
Wood said having a stable partner who lives in the same household does not mean precautions should not still be taken.
Maha Mohyuddin, a Carleton student, said despite her social bubble consisting of her roommates and her boyfriend, she still has to have rules with her partner about physical distancing restrictions to remain safe.
“If anyone goes back home, [my boyfriend and I] have to wait a week before we can see each other to be sure we don’t have symptoms,” Mohyuddin said.
According to Wood, it is normal for couples who are in the same social bubble to participate in less sexual activity due to stress caused by the pandemic.
“People who are experiencing more COVID-related stressors are found with a decrease in relationship satisfaction,” Wood said.
Although some might feel sex relieves stress for them, Wood said it can have the opposite effect for others.
“It’s very different for different people, so assessing what each of you needs in terms of sex and your relational needs is very important.”
For many young Canadians, online dating apps can still remain an option for staying sexually active.
Multiple dating apps are reporting surges in membership as single Canadians search for ways to make connections and pursue new relationships without one-on-one meetings.
“People are being very creative with their technology when it comes to relationships,” said Wood.
She emphasized how intimacy can still be reached even without being physically together.
“When we are disclosing things about ourselves and that is received well by a partner, it builds intimacy. It builds a connection,” she said.
Anna Do, a 19 year old University of Ottawa student, said she has always used dating apps to meet people, but ever since March, she has been trying to limit her in-person encounters with new acquaintances.
“Dating apps are a bit sketchy. I am not as comfortable going on dates or meeting people for the first time anymore,” she said.
Communicating with one another before meeting in person is essential, adds Do, as practicing safe sex no longer means just wearing protection, but also confirming a partner’s whereabouts in the last two weeks and any possible symptoms.
The Society of Obstetricians and Gynecologists of Canada recommends another solution to maintaining a healthy and sexually active lifestyle: masturbation.
“In terms of risks of COVID-19, this is a very safe sexual behaviour to engage in. It allows you to explore your sexuality, test out what you like,” Wood said.
As many young Canadians go back to school and Ontario enters a second wave of the pandemic, Wood encourages university students that not all sexual activities need to be put on pause, just adjusted to limit the spread of COVID-19.
Featured Graphic by Etta Gerrits
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