A more recent post about sex during the pandemic, published on 14 May 2021, can be found here.

On 22nd September, the Metro published an article entitled “Casual sex is still banned”. But is this really true?

Established couples can now have sex

Established couples that don’t live together are now allowed to have sex, according to new government guidelines. Many were not aware they couldn’t, if the public’s reaction to the Metro article is anything to go by.

The Telegraph reported in June 2020 that “it has been made illegal to have sex with someone outside your household, with the rules being put into place from June 1. Anyone caught breaking the law could face having a criminal record – although police officers cannot enter people’s homes in order to enforce this, according to a Downing Street official.”

However, the Terence Higgins Trust published advice in August that acknowledged the ideal being to have sex with a member of your household but provided pragmatic advice to limit the risks where people chose to be intimate outside it. This was reported on by the BBC. It seems that since strict lockdown  ended, the government had not made it clear that sex was still only allowed between co-habiting partners.

Sex while dating IS allowed

According to the FAQ just updated by the government, there is sex that is neither casual nor established. Here is the response to the question “Do I have to socially distance from my partner / boyfriend / girlfriend?”: 

“If in the early stages of a relationship, you should take particular care to follow the guidance on social distancing. If you intend to have close contact with someone, you should discuss how you can help to prevent risks of transmission as a couple, for example, by ensuring you are both avoiding close contact with people you do not live with.”

This suggests you need to have a cautious, responsible attitude towards sexual intimacy at the beginning of a new relationship, but it is allowed. Individuals will have to judge for themselves whether what they want to do is casual or the beginning of a relationship. The advice could be reasonably interpreted as meaning that having more than one sexual partner (or even just people that you kiss) is not permitted. It also means honest communication is going to be needed: check before your first kiss that they haven’t kissed anyone else (perhaps in the last two weeks?) for starters.

You can’t change who you have sex with

Government advice from 14/09/2020 states:

Once you’re in a support bubble, you can think of yourself as being in a single household with people from the other household. It means you can have close contact with that household as if they were members of your own household. Once you make a support bubble, you should not change who is in your bubble. From 14 September, if you form or continue in a support bubble, you cannot then change your support bubble. It does not have to be the same support bubble you may have been in previously.”

This suggests once you start being sexually intimate with someone, you can’t change that to another person. That seems harsh, especially if you wait, say, two weeks before dating someone new. But the general principle we can extract is to think carefully before taking your new relationship or dating experience to the next level. Take a longer length of time than usual to get to know someone before becoming intimate. If things don’t work out, and you feel can’t follow the guidelines to keep your bubble the same, at least have a gap before dating again  and discuss with the rest of your support bubble.

Photo by Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash

Kissing is particularly risky, as the virus is transmitted through saliva and air. Advice from the Chief Public Health Officer of Canada includes:

“If you choose to engage in an in-person sexual encounter with someone outside of your household or close contacts bubble, there are some steps you can take to reduce your risk. The most important step is to establish a trusting relationship with your sexual partner. When engaging in sexual activity you can reduce your risk by: Skipping kissing and avoiding face-to-face contact or closeness … [and] using a mask that covers the nose and mouth”.

So what is OK on a first date?

There are no guidelines, but there are ways to minimise the risk. You might decide on a hug, or a virtual kiss on both cheeks with a smile, or just holding freshly sanitised hands. You can talk about how you’d like to kiss, but decide to wait until the second date. You can go into as much detail as you like about exactly how you’d like the kiss to be, too. Or you can try the sole-to-sole kiss: rubbing the soles of your shoes (or socks if you’re feeling adventurous) together. It’s surprisingly exciting.

Photo by Shawn Pang on Unsplash

Note: Government guidelines are changing frequently. Please check here for the latest information.