Healthy lives for young people
Sex, Relationships, Wellbeing, Staying Safe Online

Sex and Relationships: Guidance During Lockdown

We asked our education experts to answer some of the questions we have received from young people about sex, relationships and wellbeing during lockdown.

Sex and sexual health

Can you get coronavirus from having sex? 

There’s no evidence that coronavirus is sexually transmitted by vaginal or anal sex. However, it is passed on through drops of saliva (so kissing someone with coronavirus should be avoided) and through touching infected surfaces.

The fact is, the close physical contact that people experience during sex has lots of risk for transmitting coronavirus, so it’s best not to have sex if you or your partner are showing symptoms.

Can I have sex during a lockdown? How is that different from the usual social distancing rules?

The restrictions in and out of lockdown are different. During a lockdown, you must not interact with people outside of your household or support bubble other than for essential services such as medical care or to buy food.

  • If you live with your partner and have no symptoms, and are not likely to be recently exposed to COVID-19, having sex is fine. Sex can be a great way to have fun, feel intimate and relieve anxiety.
  • If you don’t live with your partner, meeting with them in your/their home or without social distancing may not be allowed under the government guidelines for your area and could put you, them and those living with either of you at risk of COVID-19. 
  • If you both live alone, you and your partner might be able to form a ‘support bubble’ which means you could have sex, but it’s important that you only form a support bubble with each other and no one else.

If there is not a local lockdown where you live, you still need to follow the government guidelines on social distancing. 

  • As of the 22nd September 2020, the government said that as well as people in your household or support bubble, you don’t need to socially distance from someone you are in an established relationship with. There is no clear definition about what is meant by ‘established relationship,’ and it’s down to you to decide if the relationship you have will make it possible to keep yourself, your partner and those around you safe. A big part of this is mutual trust. You should be able to talk about the steps you can each take to protect each other and your respective loved ones, and trust that each of you takes those steps.
  • If you are in the early stages of a relationship with someone, you should still follow the guidance on social distancing. This means that it is not possible to have sex with people you are not in an established relationship with. 
  • If you are single, now is not a safe time to be having sex with new people as we should all be social distancing.

Remember: all safer sex stuff is still just as essential now as it usually is (perhaps even more so!) See below for information on accessing sexual health services.

So what kind of sex can I have during lockdown?

If you are living with your partner, you can continue to have sex with them during a lockdown. If you are in an established relationship with someone, you can have sex with them as long as you are not in a local lockdown. Local lockdown restrictions may vary, so if where you live goes into a local lockdown you should check the government guidelines. 

Aside from this, you are your safest sex partnerMasturbation can be fun, pleasurable, great stress relief, and a great way to explore your body and find out what you like.

During lockdown, people might feel like they cannot be sexual, as we are advised not to be meeting people outside of our household. But, masturbation is a safe way to still feel sexual and have sexual pleasure.

It might be hard to find somewhere private because other people in your household are at home all the time, or you might share a bedroom. Remember: there is definitely no shame in masturbating, as long as it done in private.

Some people don’t masturbate at all and that’s OK too!

What if I need to go to a sexual health clinic right now?

If you need to access sexual health services at this time, then don’t delay! You won’t be judged or told off for what you should or shouldn’t be doing during lockdown.

Brook clinics are still open, but we are operating as appointment only and providing phone consultations wherever possible to avoid the risk of spread. We do have appointments for those who really need to see us. Many sexual health services are running at a reduced capacity, or have closed. You will need to search for up to date information, and you may need to travel further than usual. Always ring ahead before you travel.

Sexual health clinics are following social distancing guidelines to keep everyone safe.

Advice for people on regular contraception 

It is important to keep up to date with your contraception. Make sure that you know when it needs to be replaced and check in with your GP or local sexual health service to be sure you can still access your contraception (it should be fine but it is a good idea to check).

It would be a great idea to also use condoms! Condoms are 98% effective when used correctly (see our step by step guide to putting on a condom). Condoms create a barrier between you and another person and reduce the risk of transmitting STIs. Also, if you or your partner/s can’t access your usual method of contraception at this time, or your contraception fails (for example not taking the pill one day), condoms provide extra protection. This can be comforting any time, but particularly at the moment when accessing services could be more difficult.

If the condom breaks, other contraception fails, or if you don’t use contraception at all, you may need to access emergency contraception. You can get the emergency contraceptive pill (morning after pill) from sexual health clinics, pharmacies or online from Fettle or Superdrug. You will need to pay for it if you get it online.  Make sure you ring ahead before visiting a service.

Relationships, friendships and social distancing

What’s the point of social distancing?

Although the risk of severe illness is different for everyone, anyone can get coronavirus.

Not everyone has clear symptoms, and people don’t know they have it unless they get tested.

Everyone has a role to play in slowing the spread to protect themselves, their family and the community. We want to stop the spread of coronavirus as much as we can to keep everyone safe.

I feel like me and my partner are getting further and further apart since we’ve not been able to see each other. How can we keep things going during lockdown and have fun together?

This is very common, you are certainly not alone in this feeling! The first thing we can do is acknowledge this feeling and perhaps to talk about it, with your partner/s and/or with other people in your life who are feeling the same way.

Seeing this time in any kind of positive light could be hard, but it is important to consider ways of coping, and get creative!

  • Talk to each other and come up with a plan together for staying connected over this period. It could include things like: send each other a compliment every day, watch the same tv show or read the same book and debrief afterwards, play an online game together.     
  • Time to reconnect, especially if you’ve been together a long time. When was the last time you had a long conversation that wasn’t interrupted by something else you had to do or somewhere you had to be?
  • There are SO MANY get to know you quizzes, personality quizzes and conversation prompts online. Going through these with your partners over video call or a phone call can be a great way to reconnect, you might even learn something new about yourself or your partners.
  • Send things to each other, letters, care packages, flowers if it is within your means.
  • Translate the things you do in real life to online or over the phone e.g. cook together
  • Plan something fun for the future.
I’m following social distancing rules and haven’t been out except for one walk a day. I haven’t seen any friends or hung about in public places, so I’m really safe and low risk. If I just visit my partner once or twice a week and keep following the rules is that ok?

According to current government advice, you can see someone you are in an established relationship with, without socially distancing. 

If you both live alone, you and your partner can choose to form a ‘support bubble’ which means you could have sex, but it’s important that you only form a support bubble with each other and no one else. If your partner lives with other people, you can form a support bubble with their household, as long as no one they live with has formed a bubble with a different household. 

When it comes to non-monogamous relationships, it is especially important to limit your contact with other people. The same rules apply in terms of  being able to see established partners without social distancing, and maintaining social distancing with other people. It is very important that everyone involved is aware of the other established relationships that affect them. Hook-ups aren’t safe at the moment, and can undo your hard work of social distancing from other people, or making sure that your relationship, whether monogamous or non-monogamous, is safe and responsible. 

If you go into a local lockdown, you should not be meeting and having sex with anyone who doesn’t live in the same house as you, or who isn’t in your support bubble. It may be tempting just to see your partner, but by doing that you could be undoing the good work you have done by staying home.

Let’s say, for example, that you live with a parent who has visited the supermarket this week. Your parent will have come into contact with strangers at the supermarket as well as touched the surfaces and products there. Your partner might also live with someone who will have done the same. Every time you saw your partner you would be passing on any risks you’ve been exposed to that week, and your partner would be doing the same to you. The fewer people you have contact with, the safer you and your household will be.

All my friends are breaking the rules and meeting up. Does it really make a difference if I do too?

It can feel frustrating when you are following the government guidelines and it seems like all your friends aren’t, and it can feel like you are ‘missing out’. Just know that by following the rules you are doing your bit to keep everyone safe.

What if someone is pressuring me to meet up?

If you’ve made the decision to stay home and distance yourself from others to keep safe, that is a really responsible choice and you can be proud of yourself for putting everyone’s safety first.

That doesn’t necessarily mean that others will make the same decisions as you though! You may find partners or friends put pressure on you to spend time with them. They should respect your boundaries and it is perfectly fine for you to tell them no; you shouldn’t do anything you feel uncomfortable with.

Remember, pressuring someone to do something is never ok, lockdown or no lockdown.

What if my relationship ends during lockdown?

There is a possibility that being apart might put strain on some people’s relationships and there can be break ups. It might feel difficult not being able to see your partner, or to make up after fights, or be worried that they’re still interested in the relationship.

This does not mean you or the relationship was a failure; it is difficult for most people to maintain relationships at a distance. Break ups are sad at any time, but if it happens to you now, it might feel even worse if you are isolated and might not be able to see your friends or family, or go and do activities that would normally make you feel better.

It’s important to remember you are not on your own if your relationship is struggling or if it ends – thousands of people are in the same boat.

It’s essential to make sure you keep looking after yourself during this time – keeping in touch with people online or on the phone, finding activities at home that you enjoy, meditation or breathing exercises, getting your daily exercise or if you just need more support you can access online counselling with Kooth.

Looking after your mental wellbeing

I’m feeling bored and restless. I’ve watched everything on TV, read all my books and played all my Xbox games. What else can I do?

This is certainly a time when many people are feeling restless. Although we are self-isolating and not seeing anyone (in person), it is a great time to reconnect with people you haven’t spoken to for a long time. Just to check in and see if they are okay, you never know you may both benefit from having a catch up!

You could get creative, by learning a new skill or practising a skill you already love. There are loads of free activities online so start exploring!

Many people are finding it helpful to treat this as a time to reflect. This is not something you should feel pressure to do, we are in a global crisis and people respond differently; not everyone wants to be super productive. Even if you just want to use this time to rest and relax, that’s ok too.

I’m feeling really anxious, what can I do?

This is an anxious time for many people, no matter how old you are. Being able to realise that you are anxious and communicate it is a great first step.

The internet is a great place for finding techniques to stay calm and grounded – different things work for different people and it is okay to experiment and try different techniques.

Here are some useful links:

Things at home are feeling really tense. How do I manage this?

During this time, families might find themselves feeling more irritated, stressed, and worried than normal. This might involve people feeling worried about their health or symptoms of coronavirus and being snappy, more argumentative or withdrawn. A good way to manage this is to try to be patient with each other, and understand that these difficult circumstances are affecting us all. Talking things out helps everyone try to understand what’s going on for each other. People won’t be feeling themselves and walking away from arguments before they start, or apologising to each other is a good way to try and maintain some calm. However, abuse is never ok and the current situation is not an excuse for abuse to happen. If you are feeling worried about someone’s behaviour read our advice on relationships and abuse for advice and support.

The government’s instructions are for people not to leave the house except in essential circumstances – such as to buy groceries, for essential work, for medical treatment or to exercise once per day. However, these rules do not apply if someone is feeling unsafe or is experiencing violence and abuse at home. Anyone experiencing domestic abuse is allowed to leave to seek refuge. If you would like any advice on this, you can look at the Government website or call the National Domestic Violence hotline on 0808 2000 247. In addition, if you are experiencing an emergency you can call 999 then press “55” if it is not safe to talk (from a mobile), and emergency services will know to put you through directly to the police.  

It feels like this will never end…

Lots of people may be feeling this way, and it is a completely valid thing to feel and think. It is however important to remember that this will end, although we don’t know when that is yet.

Something that may help this feeling is to schedule things for the future, with friends, family or a partner.  For some people making plans for the future can be helpful, for others it may simply be a case of taking it day by day.

If you do find yourself thinking about this a lot and it becomes too much, there are charities and organisations like Childline (up to 18) and Samaritans (any age) who can help. If you are feeling overwhelmed or anxious about what is going on it is important to talk about it, you are definitely not alone.

Are there any positives to all this?!

Things might feel difficult at the moment – we are experiencing a global pandemic and it’s likely to bring up all sorts of feelings, emotions and questions.

There is an expected impact on people’s mental and physical health, education, work and income, as well as our relationships. So, if that feels familiar to you, you’re not on your own, and it’s ok.

It might feel like restrictions will last forever but people are working hard to get things to something like how they were before Covid-19.. We are socially distancing, and in some cases isolating, in order to protect other people, and that’s a wonderful show of support for each other.

A great message to take away would be that if we look after ourselves and each other during this time, that deeper sense of connection will hopefully continue past restrictions being lifted.

Staying safe online

Does being in lockdown change anything in terms of my online safety?

Absolutely not! Your safety – online and in the real world – is just as important now as ever.

Even in lockdown, all normal boundaries and laws still exist and should be followed as usual. People may be spending more time online and exploring more social platforms – make sure you check privacy settings and are aware how to report and block unwanted contact.

Not being face to face with someone might make people think that consequences seem further away (think of internet “trolls” who write things they may never say to someone’s face). Upholding respect for others is a key factor – including ensuring we are providing and seeking consent from others and adhering to laws around the making and sharing of sexual messages.

It’s also important to practice safety online when talking to unknown people, watching pornography, posting information about ourselves to social media and reporting content that is illegal or offensive.

If you want more information, you can visit ThinkUKnow and any concerns around sexual abuse or online exploitation, you can report incidents via the Internet Watch Foundation

My relationships are all online now. What do I do if I feel unsafe in these relationships?

Social distancing and not being able to see friends and partners can affect relationships and many of us are now trying to continue our relationships online.

Technology is a great thing but it’s important to remember that abuse over the phone or online is still abuse. Whether it’s a friend, a partner or messages from strangers – it’s never ok for someone to make you feel anxious, worried, bullied or pressured into doing things.

People might feel more worried than ever about trying to keep connected to others, but this doesn’t mean doing things that you are uncomfortable with or that are illegal.

If you need support with your relationship, check out our information about healthy/unhealthy relationships. Alternatively, if you’d like to receive support and digital counselling you can contact Kooth.

I want to share nudes with my partner. Is this ok?

If you are under 18, ‘sexting’ – which is the sharing of any images, videos or content that is sexual in nature – is illegal.

This law is to protect young people to make sure their intimate images are not shared. While it might seem safe at the time, you cannot control who sees those pictures once they have been sent. If you are under 18, and you are worried that your images have been shared, tell a trusted adult and or contact the Internet Watch Foundation

If you are over 18, sexting is legal, but there are still lots of things to consider. Some people use sexting as a way of staying connected or for feeling good about themselves. In saying this, it’s important to remember the safety elements of sharing intimate pictures of yourself.

Photos should not be shared publicly, and there can be legal consequences for doing so. No-one should ever feel pressured to take or receive nudes, and it’s important that you talk to your partner first about doing this and set some boundaries for what feels ok and when it’s ok to send those types of messages.

It might feel difficult if someone is trying to persuade you into sexting, particularly if you worry they might go off you if you don’t, or wonder how else to keep them interested. There are lots of other ways to keep connected to someone and know that anyone who tries to force or pressure you into doing this doesn’t have your feelings or best interests at heart….and you deserve someone that does!  

Am I allowed to watch pornography during the lockdown?

Lots of people (but not all) enjoy watching pornography, more commonly known as porn. More people may be watching porn because they are at home.

If porn is something you’re watching during lockdown, be mindful there are illegal types of porn (for example, if the people in it are under 18) and some websites may scam or hack you.

It’s best to remember that porn is based on fantasy and often does not recreate realistic sex; for example, porn often does not incorporate talking about consent, or can be quite extreme. Be critical of what you watch and seek help if you witness something you find upsetting or distressing.

Also seek advice if you feel that watching porn or masturbation is interfering with your day, your mental health or your relationships.

Watching porn alone is legal but sharing pornography with under 18s is illegal. Sharing links of videos without permission is not ok and could be upsetting for others (also see section on ‘sexting’).

Everyone’s boundaries are different when it comes to porn, it is important to be respectful of this when other people are in the house. Read more about Porn.

More support and advice

Follow @Brook_Sexpositive on Instagram for more support and advice.

Stay safe, stay connected, listen to government advice, and give your body and mind lots of love and kindness during this time.

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