As countries around the world slowly begin to come back to life, governments are experimenting with exactly how prescriptive they should be when giving guidelines on how people should navigate the new normal — including on sex and dating. It has involved some trial and error.
In the Netherlands, Dutch officials relaxed the government’s rules on sex during the coronavirus pandemic, advising last week that locked-down singles find “sex buddies.” Acknowledging that human touch is important, the guidance said the two parties must be in strict agreement about limiting the spread of the virus.
“Discuss together how to best do that,” the guidelines said. “Follow the rules around the new coronavirus.”
Officials at the National Institute for Public Health and the Environment in the Netherlands later clarified that advice, however, removing the term “seksbuddy” from the website after it drew attention from the international news media.
A spokeswoman for the agency told the Dutch news website NU.nl that the advice did not encourage “random sex contacts,” but that people who already knew each other or were in relationships but did not live in the same household could have sex without violating health guidelines.
Dutch officials said that if one partner was isolated because of suspected or confirmed coronavirus infection, sex at a distance was still possible, such as by telling erotic stories.
“It makes sense that as a single you also want to have physical contact,” the agency’s current guidance reads.
Earlier in the pandemic, the Dutch government, like others around the world, had advised people to have sex only with steady partners.
Different cities and countries have taken varying approaches to guidance on sex during the pandemic, with some more skittish than others.
In Denmark, the country’s health chief gave his blessing to even casual sexual encounters throughout the pandemic.
“Sex is good. Sex is healthy,” Soren Brostrom, director general of the Danish Health Authority, said in April, according to The Local DK, an English-language news site. “We are sexual beings, and of course you can have sex in this situation.”
In New York, Los Angeles and other U.S. cities, however, officials recommended masturbation, and suggested avoiding sexual contact with people in other households.
“You are your safest sex partner,” according to guidelines in New York and Los Angeles. “The next safest partner is someone you live with.”
San Francisco officials recommended “limiting sex to your main partner(s).” In Washington, the mayor’s office told residents that having sex with a live-in partner was OK, so long as they first check to make sure their partner is also feeling well. “Sex and close contact will be waiting for you when you are feeling better,” it reassured residents in a statement.
Oregon went further. In a detailed poster, the Oregon Health Authority offered graphics to go with its suggestions.
“Avoid kissing anyone who is not part of your small circle of close contacts,” the notice said. Health officials also encouraged partners to consider sexting and web chat platforms for remote sex.
Kissing, of course, can spread the coronavirus, and researchers in China found that the coronavirus can linger in semen, according to a paper published this month in JAMA Network Open, a peer-reviewed medical journal. While this does not prove that the virus can be sexually transmitted, experts say that close contact with a partner involves some risk.
In England, Jenny Harries, the deputy chief medical officer, said in March that couples who were living in separate addresses should choose either to stay apart or to move in together.
“For quite a significant period going forward, they should just test the strength of their relationship and decide whether one wishes to be permanently resident in another household,” Dr. Harries said. “Test really carefully your strength of feeling.”
Matt Hancock, secretary of state for health and social care, added that couples should “make a choice and stick with it.”