They’re calling it “love in the time of coronavirus.”
“Love,” of course, being the operative and the operatic word. (Crisis tends to inspire drama, even in language.) In truth, “dating” would be a more fitting word, since many have found themselves concerned over whether they should even be leaving their homes, much less kissing strangers they’ve just met online.
In some ways, those anxieties are justified. COVID-19 spreads through person-to-person contact, and as documented cases continue to increase exponentially, “social distancing” — reducing close contact between people to stymie virus transmission — has emerged as the prevailing moral logic.
“We don’t have a vaccine, and we don’t have any antiviral drugs yet,” infectious diseases specialist Dr. Isaac Bogoch tells HuffPost Canada. “And in the absence of those things, the best way to protect individuals and communities is to reduce the number of people who get this infection. Social distancing is one way to do that.”
Watch: What is social distancing? Story continues below.
It’s also one of the primary guidelines issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and a slew of other medical experts. We’re supposed to reduce close contact with others. That means avoiding crowded spaces like malls, nightclubs, and restaurants.
But even in times of crisis, people still have love on the brain. So what does that mean for dating?
Safe sex, according to NYC’s Department of Health
When it comes to sex and love, New York City has a reputation that precedes it. But as more and more cases of the coronavirus continue to pour in, so, too, do directives on how to keep from catching it.
Social distancing demands us to seriously consider the question of sex, since you can’t exactly have sex from two metres apart. And according to the New York City Department of Health (NYDOH), there are very few ways we should be having sex at all.
The new guidelines stress the importance of social distancing, and remind us that the virus can be transmitted through saliva, mucus, and feces, though it has not yet been proven to transmit through semen or vaginal fluid.
The safest sex, according to the guidelines, is masturbation. Second on the list is sex with someone you already live with, since a small circle prevents the spread of the virus. It is recommended that you still use a condom (especially during anal or oral sex), and that you wash up both before and after.
If they’re feeling sick, though, it’s best to skip the sex entirely.
As for sex with people outside of your household, the NYDOH discourages it.
The guidelines state that we should be avoiding all close contact with anyone outside our homes, and that if you are having sex with other people, best practice is with “as few partners as possible,” and to avoid group sex.
As an alternative, it suggests sexting, video dates, and chat room.
How to date more safely
Claire A.H., the owner of a Toronto-based dating service called Friend of a Friend Matchmaking, just returned from a matchmaking conference in New York City, where she says many of the attendees were discussing measures to take in light of the coronavirus pandemic.
Though many dating apps have already begun issuing prompts to users reminding them to take care of their health — wash your hands! — there has yet to be a consensus on how exactly dating can be made safer.
“One thing to consider is that, if you do want to meet up with someone, it’s best to do it in a smaller, more intimate space,” Claire told HuffPost Canada over the phone. “That means avoiding crowds at bars or busy restaurants.”
Those are, of course, two of the more common places you might think of as places to go for a date. The tablecloth restaurant is a staple in the public imagination. But Claire says one option several companies at the conference were considering have a very “Love is Blind” feel: video chats.
“In general, it’s not nice to meet up with anyone if you’re feeling sick, much less a date,” she says. “With a video call, you can set up your computer at a desk, have a drink, bring along a little snack. You can get dressed up and treat the call like it’s an actual date.”
Maybe that doesn’t cut it for you. Maybe you’re not into the whole virtual meeting thing. In the event that you still want to meet someone in person — how old-fashioned you are! — Claire says it’s still a good idea to do a form of screening before you meet them.
That means having a conversation beforehand about your health.
“It might not be sexy, but if you’re thinking about getting closer to someone or being intimate, it’s not a bad idea to ask, you know, ‘How’s your immune system? Have you or anyone else in your life been compromised by the virus?’” she suggests. “It might be odd to have to do the whole disclosure thing on or before a first date, but it’s no different from talking about other health or emotional risks.”
When it comes to COVID-19, Claire says both or however many parties should feel comfortable about meeting up with each other. And the best way to do that, she argues, is to ask questions and get clarity on anything you might be anxious about.
“It’s just a basic and healthy tenet of communication, I think, to engage in that sort of behaviour,” she says, likening it to STI disclosure. “Once you know those things, then you can decide on your own if you want to engage in more or less closeness. Engaging in any kind of rookie play is OK, as long as everyone is informed and on the same page.”
Try not to panic
“Unfortunately,” Claire admits, “it’s true that there are a number of potential ways you can get COVID-19. One of them is making out. But so is touching your face after you’ve touched your coworker’s keyboard.”
Though COVID-19 is, at present, relatively mild in about 80 per cent of cases, people are still panicking. But freaking out and sequestering yourself — from love, from the world — isn’t really the answer.
“People locking themselves in their homes and not coming out seems a bit excessive to me,” says Dr. Bogoch. “You have to continue on through life, and take care of your basic needs. Rely on your common sense. Does that mean hiding in the basement for a year until this blows over? No, it doesn’t. Does that mean avoiding busy places? Yes, that sounds fair.”
He adds: “And wash your damn hands.”