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COVID-19 has Changed the way we View Dating and Intimacy

UCLA Health interviewed Dr. Pamina Gorbach, UCLA Fielding School of Public Health professor of epidemiology, on the pandemic's impact on dating and intimacy

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Date: 
Friday, October 29, 2021
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COVID-19 is not a sexually transmitted disease. But, like STDs, it has affected the way many people prioritize their love life, particularly those in the process of looking for a mate.

Due to its highly infectious nature, COVD-19 has created a dilemma when it comes to intimacy and dating.

Dr. Pamina Gorbach, UCLA Fielding School of Public Health professor of epidemiology and a behavioral epidemiologist at UCLA Health whose research focuses on behaviors associated with sexually transmitted diseases including HIV, explained why people looking for love should treat the risk of COVID-19 the same as they would risks of STDs.

“I think sexual intimacy is a very high-risk situation for the transmission of COVID,” Gorbach said. “We haven’t had specific cases where people note that it was transmitted through sex, but there is kissing, which is a clear type of contact through which it can certainly be transmitted.”

COVID-19 is mostly transferred through droplets and those droplets are exchanged in large quantities through kissing.

According to a study published in Fertility and Sterility, researchers in China tested semen samples of 34 men who had been diagnosed with COVID-19. The coronavirus was not detected in any of the samples, but the study was declared “not comprehensive enough” to rule out the possibility.

Gorbach noted that it is hard to isolate a specific intimate act – whether it be simply touching or kissing – that might lead to transmission of COVID-19, but she advises caution.

“There are some behaviors that have become normalized in some circles, such as getting tested for STDs before you have sex, and I think that COVID would certainly fall into that realm,” she said.

COVID-19 tests, vaccinations and sex

In a recent nonscientific survey conducted by UCLA Health, 111 people responded to this question on social media: “Has COVID-19 changed the way you view dating or being intimate with someone?” The vast majority of respondents – 88% – said yes, COVID-19 has, in fact, altered their thoughts about dating.

In the same survey, people were asked if they would require their partner to submit to a COVID-19 test before becoming intimate. Slightly more than 40% said they would. In contrast, 71% said that a person’s vaccination status plays a major role in whether they would date them.

Gorbach noted that people who have taken the steps to get vaccinated can ideally build a level of trust with their partner.

“COVID-19 should be looked at like any other risk of infectious diseases that comes along with sex,” she said. “As you move toward intimacy with someone you date, getting vaccinated and getting tested should be among the steps you take.”

Gorbach advised specific COVID-19-related actions be taken before engaging in sexual activity.

• Get vaccinated.
• Make sure the person you’re engaging with has been vaccinated.
• Get tested for COVID-19 and have your partner get tested if there have been recent risky situations like attending parties, large events, or eating in restaurants indoors.

Even with these precautions, Gorbach warns, it’s important to be careful because people are not always honest about their “negative” or “vaccinated” status. She recommended that partners can talk about getting tested and vaccinated together.

“Sadly, people don’t always tell the truth. We learned that from incidents on airplanes. People have boarded airplanes and traveled knowing they were sick with COVID, putting everyone around them at risk,” she said.

Dating apps adjust to pandemic

Some dating apps have altered their platforms to become more pandemic friendly, allowing their users to narrow their search for love by identifying potential matches based on COVID-19 vaccination status.

One such app, OKCupid, recently reported that people who indicate they are vaccinated against COVID-19 receive 14% more matches than those who are unvaccinated

Tinder, OKCupid and several other popular dating apps partnered with the White House in the spring of 2021 to try to influence Americans to get the COVID-19 vaccine.

OKCupid announced that profiles showing the phrase “I’m vaccinated” increased by more than 1,400% between January and May 2021. They also said members on their site who say they are planning to get the vaccine are getting 15% more likes and matches and are having 4.5% more conversations with interested parties than those who did not indicate a plan to get vaccinated.

COVID-19 also has changed existing relationships

Even those already in relationships talked to UCLA Health about the effects of COVID-19 on their partnership. One survey participant, Terri, discussed with UCLA Health how the pandemic has affected her marriage.

“We got married in December of 2019, just a few months before the pandemic, so when the pandemic hit we were still newlyweds. It was definitely an adjustment,” she said. “I noticed there was a difference in our intimacy, because there was this high rise in affection when we first got married, but then when the pandemic hit we were like, ‘I don’t know if I should hug you or kiss you.’ There just wasn’t a lot of data and information that was really out there at that time.”

Terri said it took about two months from the start of the pandemic for her and her husband to get comfortable with intimacy again and eventually it brought them closer together.

“Eventually, social distancing went out the window because we ended up having a healthy pandemic baby,” she said with a laugh.

Manage your risk

Gorbach said COVID-19 can be dangerous because those who are considered “risk-takers” will continue to take risks – and the coronavirus is just another risk for their repertoire.

“If a person is willing to take those sort of risks, then they’re not going to be willing to take the necessary precautions to make sure that intimacy happens in a safe way,” Gorbach said.

“If you want intimacy to happen safely, then have a Zoom date and get to know each other,” she said. “Then meet in person and if things progress, then confirm you are both vaccinated – get tested together and then you can feel a lot more comfortable getting intimate.”

By Chayil Champion