COVID 'Sex Bubble'
12 Nov 2020
COVID-19 remains a very real threat to the health and wellbeing of the community. Since lockdown commenced our community has had to accommodate isolation, loneliness and the stresses associated with being unable to connect with others.
We understand that there is a gap between public health directives and aspirations and the reality of how people behave. Emotion and impulse are never factored into a public health response but they are central to any meaningful health promotion calculus. Our health promotion has always needed to be cognisant of the disparity between what public health needs and the ways people behave and operate within it to provide people with as much information as possible so they can make decisions to ensure their safety. This is consistent with the historical mission of the organisation to protect the health and wellbeing of our community.
Until we find a vaccine for COVID we are all implementing a range of strategies to reduce our risk of catching and potentially passing the virus on to others – and we will also need to think about ways to do this when it comes to sex.
COVID is a virus that is very easily transmitted – it can be spread through breathing, touching, mouth droplets and even by just touching surfaces. Therefore every form of physical sex with another person comes with a level of risk of COVID. Using the COVIDSafe app is one way that you can help you keep track of whether you have been exposed.
One strategy that can be implemented to potentially reduce the risk of COVID during sex is called the ‘Sex Bubble’.
Meet the Sex Bubble
This term refers to having a small group of people where you only have sex with each other and not with people outside of the group. For this to work effectively it requires that all members of the group agree to certain rules, have trust in each other to follow those rules, and an understanding of what happens if someone slips up.
This type of agreement has been successfully used to prevent the transmission of HIV in both monogamous and open relationships. In terms of HIV prevention, this was what was known as ‘negotiated safety’.
If you are thinking of creating a Sex Bubble, you will still need to know what particular COVID restrictions are in place and what the consequences of breaking these are. These restrictions have been put in place to keep us all safe and it is not advised that you break them.
How does it work?
The Sex Bubble begins with a conversation with a potential sex partner, a regular ‘friend with benefits’ or someone that you have hooked up with before.
When reaching out to potential Sex Bubble buddies, think about what you are asking and how you are asking it. You are offering a way to reduce the risk and have fun, but you are also asking them to not have sex with other people outside the bubble. Some people might not want to limit their sexual partners and if that is the case, then they are not suited to be part of your Sex Bubble.
Keep it in the group
Once the people you have reached out to agree to be part of the Sex Bubble the next conversation involves discussing and agreeing to what the rules are - and everyone needs to agree to the rules. This involves agreeing that everyone in the Sex Bubble can only have sex with each other and not with people outside of that group. Everyone will need to agree to this. You should also agree to turn the COVIDSafe app on and off after each catch up with each other – keeping a record of hooking up can also help for contact tracing too.
Keeping safe here, there and everywhere
The next agreement is about how you are all going to reduce your risk of COVID outside of the Sex Bubble. What are the risk reduction strategies that you are applying right now that everyone should also be doing? This includes wearing a mask outdoors and at work, using hand sanitiser after working out, limiting your social interactions with other people and not having people over – this will change as restrictions change but you can still have strategies in place to reduce the potential risk at any time. Everyone in the group needs to agree to what the rules are when it comes to staying COVID safe.
Talk the Talk
One of the pitfalls of entering into arrangements like this can be the possibility of misunderstandings, assumptions and a lack of clarity. You need to be prepared to have what might be difficult conversations with others so that everyone knows what is going on and everyone agrees to how it will work – and what to do if it doesn’t work. Trust is a key component of all relationships, as is respect. Negotiating with your partners with trust and respect means that difficult conversations can be made easier.
After everyone has agreed to only have sex within the bubble, additional conversations help identify the rules on what happens within the group. Every person needs to be aware of these rules and agree to them.
- An agreement on what HIV and STI prevention strategies everyone is using.
- Using barrier protection when hooking up, such as condoms for blow jobs, dams for rimming or licking a vagina/front-hole.
- An agreement to be tested every 3 months for HIV and STIs.
- An agreement on the types of sex that will be had (i.e., anal, oral, vaginal, front-hole, mutual masturbation).
- An agreement on the use of particular positions that reduce risk, such as doggy style or through a glory hole.
- An agreement on the use of sex toys and sex toy hygiene.
- An agreement on the wearing of masks when hooking-up.
- An agreement to limit kissing and spit play during hook-ups.
- An agreement on having sex indoors and/or outdoors.
- Putting a limit on the amount of people that can hook-up together at the same time.
- Using hand sanitiser before and after sex.
- Having a shower before and after sex.
Everyone in the Sex Bubble needs to agree to these rules.
Once the rules about sex have been agreed to, you will need to discuss what happens if someone slips up. If you and your flatmate, friend or designated visitor end up hooking up and they are not part of the group then what happens? The discussion should focus on how to deal with the situation rather than placing blame or being accusatory. Everyone can slip up, and if you add alcohol and drugs, sometimes our judgement can be impaired.
You will also need to discuss what you will do if someone has symptoms. Anyone with symptoms of COVID should get tested as quickly as possible and avoid all types of contact – including sex! - until they can get their result back.
Keep in touch
Make sure you can all get in touch with the group easily. Start a group chat, and use a shared calendar to keep your playtime organised. Keep a record of who you are catching up with and for how long – this can come in handy if someone does contract COVID.
So if someone slips up, what can the group do? They can put hook-ups with the person on pause for two weeks to see if they develop symptoms for COVID (the average onset of symptoms is 5 days, but can range from 2-11 days so better to stay on the safer side). Maybe they just watch other members of the group over cam for a couple of weeks? It is important for the person who slips up to feel comfortable to inform the group about it. If they don’t feel comfortable telling you, then it can’t work.