by bruce olmscheid, md



ere we are, four months into this pan- demic that has quarantined us at home while we keep our distance from others. Did you follow all the rules at first? Are

you now finding yourself getting a bit “antsy,” asking yourself, “Do I really have to keep doing this? Can I go on that date? Can we get together if it’s just the two of us?” Let’s start by reminding ourselves that COVID-19 is

still out there. We are opening things up a bit, slowly, but the virus is still the virus—it hasn’t changed. We still need to be cautious and follow guidelines and rules in order to protect ourselves and others. And human beings are social and sexual beings. Let’s talk about how we can navigate sex and dating at this stage of the pandemic, using what we have learned over the past months. The LBGTQ community has some unique chal-

lenges. Some members of our community are living at home with family or with friends who are not aware of their gender identity or sexual orientation. Others face loss of home or security if they are found out. Others have found support in social gatherings that have suddenly been closed. The dating apps entice and can lead people to feel even more isolated during the stay-at-home orders and even now as these restrictions begin to loosen. Our community is our support. We need each other. There has been a lot of thought and preparation behind decisions to open restaurants, bars and other venues. Do yourself a favor and put the same type of thought into how you will choose to navigate your sexuality in this next phase of the pandemic. Ask yourself, “If I do choose to hook up or meet someone or go on a date, how do I do that and stay safe?” Remember that our LGBTQ community is strong and resilient, and there are many people in our

28 | July 2020

CONDOMS Navigating Your Sexuality During the COVID-19 Pandemic

community today who survived the AIDS epidemic. And many in our community have remained HIV- negative for years and even decades, by finding ways to make the “rules” work for them. Tap into them for support. If you hear about “HIV prevention” today, what

do you think of? Fortunately, most people in our community know about the use of medication to prevent HIV (PrEP) and they know that undetectable equals untransmittable. Both are relatively recent developments. For the first two years of the AIDS epidemic, HIV prevention meant that you followed “safe sex” practices. Condoms. Condoms. Condoms. No barebacking. Cum on me not in me. And that meant every time! The LGBTQ community came together and got

creative. I remember the first time I went to New York City and was invited to a seminar on “eroticizing safer sex.” They talked very openly about all kinds of things I had never talked about. I still recall how shocking it was to me to talk so openly about it, but we did, and it saved lives. Feel free to ask others who lived through that era for details. And now, here we are, needing to talk about

COVID-19 prevention. How do we do that and have a sex life? My first suggestion is to find the words that work

for you. If you are ready to go on a date, set aside some time to talk with your partner, or start the conversation on the app. You might want to share your own experience first. “I have been staying home. I have been working from home. I have always worn a mask when I went to the grocery store.” “What are you doing to stay safe from COVID?”

“This is what I have been doing. Have you been tested for COVID?” Have the discussion before you meet. And promise each other that you will follow

through on your plan. Talk with your partner about how you think you

can make this work. Kissing is out—at first. Get creative! What turns you on that you could do with someone else, that will allow you to keep your mask on? And allows you to keep six feet between you and your partner? Are you ready to get creative? To dare to have a fantasy? What could it look like if you are in the same room, with masks on, but no touching? Try a verbal fantasy? Are you more the voyeur? Or the one who enjoys the attention? Remember, this is for now. As you get to know each

other and trust each other, you can consider getting tested together, and then trusting that you are taking care of each other. Getting a swab (from the nose or throat) will tell

you whether or not you have the virus. But the test result is only as good as your risk of exposure. If you are following the rules, and you get a test, and it is negative, and your partner is doing the same, then you can feel more comfortable that you both truly are negative. If both of you are negative, and one of you is hooking up with someone new every night, then the risk is much higher. The more people you let into your “circle” or your

“pod,” the more chance there is for you to come in contact with someone who may not be completely honest. So maybe start with one other person at first. Our community has been through “prevention”

and “risk reduction.” We know how to be creative. We are courageous and willing to do what is needed to stay safe. We know how to care for ourselves and each other. We got this! Will you be the one to startthe discussion?

Bruce Olmscheid, MD, is a primary care physician and district medical director at One Medical, San Diego.

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