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Dating and sex during COVID-19: Q&A with Dr. Sharon Domb

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The pandemic has had various impacts on sex lives, with many studies saying that, during the peak of the pandemic, restrictions and anxieties about COVID-19 led to people, especially singles, having less sex than they were having pre-pandemic.

“The beginning of the pandemic saw a decrease in sexual activity amongst young singles because the normal places where people would meet up disappeared,” says Dr. Sharon Domb, a staff physician in the Department of Family and Community Medicine at Sunnybrook. “And people were afraid to pick up COVID, so there was certainly more anxiety and stress about meeting new people.”

But with fears easing, restrictions lifting, and most activities back on, Dr. Domb says she suspects singles will return to “normal” behaviours in terms of sexual activity — which can have benefits and risks. She shares helpful insight that people should be aware of if they hope to engage in more sexual activity.

Many people, especially singles, experienced a dry spell in terms of their sexual activity throughout this pandemic. But now with things opening up again, it looks like that could be changing. Can you talk about why this is a good thing?

Sex in the right context for most people usually is a positive thing. From a psychological perspective, from a physical perspective, all of those things.

Young singles certainly suffered a lot in terms of the isolation and the change in their social behaviours and normal social interactions; it was very challenging for the demographic. So, it’s great that they can rekindle social relationships, to be able to get back to sort of normal behaviour, to interact with friends and meet people and hang out.

There’s a huge mental health benefit, not just with sex, but also with the relationships that lead to that.

As we know, the pandemic isn’t over. So, for those who are trying to get out and date and meet new people, how worried should they about COVID-19?

I think everybody sort of needs to take stake of their personal situation.

Are they living with somebody who’s immunocompromised or with an elderly relative? Is it going to be catastrophic if they get COVID? Are they immunocompromised or unwell themselves? If yes, then I think they have to be extra cautious, understanding the ramifications if they get COVID.

If they’re not particularly at risk, they’re vaccinated, and if they live by themselves or they’re not putting anybody they live with in danger, then the risk is probably not huge. I think they should take reasonable precautions, but I wouldn’t say to a 20-something, “Stay at home and never go out.”

At the end of the day, everyone needs to find a point of some moderation.

Aside from COVID, what else should singles keep in mind as they start getting out there again?

By and large, it’s going to be the same issues that demographic dealt with before: you should take precautions, both for pregnancy and for sexually transmitted infections (STIs).

STIs are fairly common. Have a conversation with whomever you’re going to be with and understand their history and what your risk is. Condoms are always a good idea, but they don’t protect from everything. Often, people use condoms for intercourse, but they don’t use condoms for oral sex — and you can certainly get an STI through oral sex.

On top of using condoms, I encourage people to ensure they’re vaccinated. HPV vaccines weren’t offered in schools until quite recently. Females in grade 8 were offered them in Ontario in 2007, and males in grade 8 weren’t offered HPV vaccines until 2016. So, unless people were on the ball and retroactively went to their doctors to get it, most people aren’t vaccinated for HPV.

Another important thing to know about STIs is that we can do a screen, but it doesn’t mean it’s a 100 per cent clear bill of health. Standard screens don’t include every STI, and some STIs can be easily missed if symptoms aren’t active.

So again, it’s important to take all the precautions you can, and have a conversation with whomever you’re going to be with.

Any final messages for those who are hoping to become more sexually active?

Go have fun, just do it responsibly.

About the author

Kaitlin Jingco

Kaitlin is a Digital Communications Specialist at Sunnybrook who focuses predominantly on Sunnybrook's content and social media.