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Post-lockdown sex: How to stay safe when you get back to it


TextLaura Smith

Online sexual health service, SH:24, share its tips for looking after your sexual health when the lockdown is finally over

Apparently sex is one of the first things that people in the UK want to do post-lockdown. While we don’t know what socialising is going to look like then, we do expect that many of you will be looking for a sexual experience as soon as we’re allowed to get up close and personal again. So, how can you look after your sexual health after months of isolation? Here, sexual health organisation SH:24 shares its tip for looking after your sexual health in a post-lockdown world. 

GET TESTED NOW 

You might not have been having sex during lockdown, but it’s still a good time to get tested for STIs. In fact, lockdown is a ‘once in a lifetime’ opportunity to reduce the spread of STIs. If everyone gets tested (and treated, if necessary), we could restart our sex lives with a clear bill of sexual health. 

At SH:24, we saw a big increase in demand for STI test kits in the few weeks after lockdown began. We expected this, as people were getting tested for infections they might have picked up lockdown began. The most common STIs – chlamydia, gonorrhoea, and HIV – won’t show up in tests until up to four weeks after exposure (or up to 12 weeks for syphilis). Healthcare professionals call this the ‘window period’. If you think you might have been exposed to an STI before lockdown, now would be a great time for a check-up. Many clinics have shifted their testing services online, alternatively you can find an online STI testing service in your area. 

If you think you might have been exposed to HIV within the last three days, you can take PEP (an anti-HIV medication) that can prevent the virus from developing. Find your nearest PEP service and check their website for current info on how to access emergency treatment, or head straight to A&E. The sooner you start taking this, the more likely it is to be effective.

STAY PROTECTED 

We’ve all been hearing the same mantra for months: Stay at home, protect the NHS, save lives. When it comes to sex, we stick to a similar mantra: stay safe, get tested, use protection. This doesn’t change much, even in a global pandemic. The best way to protect yourself from sexually transmitted infections is testing regularly and using a barrier method like a condom, dental dam, or latex gloves.

While Durex reported a fall in condom sales during lockdown, we don’t yet know how easy it will be to access condoms and other protection when all this is over. Plan ahead. You don’t want to be waiting in a one-in, one-out queueing system at Boots on your way to a hook up, so pick some up next time you brave a trip to the supermarket. Even post-lockdown, remember to follow the rules on social distancing. COVID-19 can be spread through kissing and close contact, semen (!), and oral-fecal transmission, so be mindful of where you put your tongue. 

If you’ve been using PreP (a pre-exposure medication that can prevent the spread of HIV), you can stop using it while you’re not having sex, and then restart post-lockdown. However, you might find that clinics have changed the way you can access PreP with more online and phone consultations. Check out the Terrence Higgins Trust info on getting hold of PrEP during and post-lockdown.

LOOK AFTER YOUR MENTAL HEALTH TOO 

Here at SH:24, we are strong believers that there is no sexual health without mental health. The WHO definition of sexual health emphasises “...a state of physical, emotional, mental and social well-being in relation to sexuality... Sexual health requires a positive and respectful approach to sexuality and sexual relationships, as well as the possibility of having pleasurable and safe sexual experiences.” Sexual health isn’t just about avoiding STIs, but about understanding how you feel about sex and sexuality, and finding positive, pleasurable experiences in situations where you feel safe, confident, and in control. 

When you are struggling with anxiety, depression, or if you’re feeling uncomfortable about sex, you might not be making safe decisions for your physical or mental health. And we all know how lockdown ramped up anxiety levels for many of us. We don’t expect all those anxieties to go away when lockdown ends. Many people have lost jobs or income, and will still be feeling uncertain about their future. Our ‘normal’ habits and routines probably won’t return for some time. Those of us who have been coping with loneliness in isolation, or struggling to manage existing mental health issues, may have felt a profound effect on how we feel about ourselves. If we are suddenly able to go out and have sex, it’s important that we take some time to think about what we want that sex to be like, who we want to have it with, and what kind of situation we want to be in. Take a mental health check-in before you head out. It might make your ‘first’ sexual encounter all the more enjoyable. 

USE YOUR LOCKDOWN LEARNINGS 

Many of you have been enjoying a new kind of freedom during lockdown. The huge change in lifestyle has encouraged an enormous amount of sexual creativity. Whether you’ve been virtual dating, making your own sex toys, binge-listening to sex and relationships podcasts like Love in Quarantine, trying out tips for better masturbation, or just had a lot more time with your existing partner, chances are you’ve tried something new. 

What’s that got to do with sexual health? Finding different forms of intimacy, whether that involves sex or not, helps to understand our bodies and feel confident about what gives us pleasure. To reiterate the last point, sexual health and mental health go hand in hand, or hand in whatever makes you feel good. If you’ve found something that works for you, keep doing it. And remember, we’ve all been #alonetogether. Your post-lockdown partners have just been through the same period of isolation. This might be a good time to talk about what you want from sex, and find out more about what your partners enjoy.

KEEP GETTING TESTED 

Once you’re having sex again, we recommend you get tested every three months if you change your sexual partner regularly, or once a year if not. In ordinary, non-global-pandemic times, you can get tested at your local sexual health clinic, your GP, or through an online service. We don’t yet know what face-to-face services are going to look like in the post-lockdown world, and it’s likely they’ll remain restricted for some time to come. If you’re able to test at home, now might be a good time to give it a try. But remember, whatever kind of post-lockdown sex you get up to, the oldest mantra is the best: stay safe, get tested, use protection. 

SH:24 offers free STI testing in partnerships with the NHS. In areas where this service is not available, SH:24 offers a paid for service via its sister company Fettle Health.

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