The last time I wrote about safer sex and pleasure during COVID-19 – last April (in other words, three lifetimes ago) – I focused on lots of tasty treats on the sexual menu.
One need not renounce the myriad pleasures of the flesh during a terrifying pandemic. Safe and safer choices like masturbation, porn, sliding into DMs, toys, having one quarantine bae, participating in role plays that don’t involve close contact (sometimes not touching can be just as hot as touching, eh?), avoiding face-to-face positions in favor of other delicious ways to get it on (heads in pillows, hello), cosplay involving sexy mask gear, and of course, meditation and moisturization.
Meditation because your most powerful sexual organ is your freaky brain and moisturization because, DUH!
While all those items are yummy ways to get off – anytime – let’s be honest, there were things that really weren’t on the menu last year if you were serious about staying clear of an incredibly nasty virus, the new coronavirus (COVID-19). To date that brute has killed nearly 4 million people across the world with about 600,000 deaths in the United States and 23,000 of our family, friends, coworkers and neighbors lost in Illinois.
Sex definitely looked different for a lot of us in the After Times—the period after March 2020 when COVID-19 began dictating much of our lives.
Ah the After Times!
Now we are happily moving into the After After Times where there are more juicy offerings back on the horny, hot and humid menu. And the reason is simple – the three vaccines we have available are incredibly effective at preventing transmission of COVID-19 and preventing serious illness should you become infected with the virus. You have strong immunity two weeks after your Johnson & Johnson dose and two weeks after your second dose of either Pfizer or Moderna.
New case numbers are plummeting, as is the death rate. As of June 7, about 43% of people in the United States have been vaccinated, and approximately 65% of Illinois residents 12-years of age and over have had at least one jab. In Chicago, nearly 53% percent of us have received at least one dose and about 43% percent are fully vaccinated against COVID-19.
Being vaxxed means can you meet Mister Right, Miss Right Now or Mx. How Can it Be Wrong if it Feels So Right and hug, cuddle, kiss, caress, lick, suck, slurp, flip, flop and fuck. Regardless of Mx.’s vaccination status. Of course, you may feel more comfortable making the paint peel with someone who has also been vaccinated, because caring about your health the health of others is fucking hot. Duh. But in terms of COVID risk to you, tearing it up with someone of unknown vax status is still pretty low risk. Just note that I say “low” and not zero. You can still get COVID-19 if you are vaxxed. You can still get sick if you are vaxxed. It’s just that the likelihood of both is low, and most people who do get sick won’t end up in the hospital.
Staying Tuned Up
STI and HIV Screenings A lot of us are more than a little out of the routines we had established during the Before Times (pre-COVID). Here in the After After, we are going to want to make STI screening a regular thing – especially if we are affectionate and popular. This applies to all of us, regardless of HIV status. Same goes for HIV screening. Like STI testing, if you are getting busy, check that HIV status every three months. Four times a year is a charm for sure, though you may want to adjust based on your specific context. Getting a sexual health tune up on the regular is a great way to keep you and your network/community healthy, plus it’s fucking hot.
PrEP If you are HIV-negative and were taking PrEP before lockdown and discontinued its use, please check in with your trusted provider to re-start. PrEP isn’t DIY – you will want to ensure you are still HIV-negative and have a full understanding of your dosing options. For cis gay, bisexual, and same gender loving men who get fucked, you may be able to utilize a WHO-endorsed non-daily dosing regimen called 2+1+1, which entails a “loading dose” of 2 pills two to 24 hours before sex, and then follow-up doses 24 and 48 hours after sex. The 2+1+1 method is also called “on demand” and is a great, effective, safe option for guys who are having sex once a week or less. If you are busier than that, stick with daily dosing.
If you are a person with a vagina, time to protection with PrEP varies from a week of daily pill taking to about 20 days. People with vaginas also need to take their pills daily – there aren’t any “on demand” options now, due to the biology of the vagina. It’s frustrating we don’t have more exact numbers regarding time to protection – 7 to 20 days is quite a broad parameter – but science can be annoying that way, unfortunately. It’s always a smart thing to talk with your provider about dosing, time to protection, and anything else to do with PrEP.
In 2022 we expect to have an injectable form of PrEP available for men and women, inclusive of trans people, which may make it easier for some folks to engage in a PrEP program. AFC will keep you updated on this space.
Undetectable=Untransmittable For people living with HIV like me (going on 26 years here), this is a good time to remind ourselves about U=U, or undetectable = untransmittable. This means that if we are taking our treatment meds consistently and correctly, and our viral load is very low (known as “undetectable”) we are unable to transmit HIV to our sexual partners. U=U is 100% effective – one of the rare things we have that can make that claim based on scientific evidence. It’s important to note that this only applies to sexual intercourse.
Over the last 15 months or so, many of us with HIV did not see our doctors, so we may not have current read outs of our viral load. Quarantine, job losses and other things resulting from a terrifying pandemic can also mean we may have not taken our HIV meds as consistently and correctly as necessary to maintain an undetectable viral load. If you haven’t seen your doc in more than 6 months, and/or struggled with taking your meds (happens to all of us!), it’s a great idea to make an appointment and get that viral load checked, among other things.
Sexual health is about pleasurable, consensual sex free from coercion. It’s about desire, tingle and quiver. It’s about yum. Knowledge, regular screenings, PrEP, U=U, insertive and receptive condoms, lube and creativity between you and your partners, plus the increasingly vaccinated world we are living in (at least in the United States, not so much everywhere else), means we can have the bomb sex we want and deserve.
Are you living with HIV, taking PrEP, need HIV testing and need some support? A friendly human is just a phone call away - call The Hub, 1-844-482-4040. Also, be sure to check out PrEP4Love.com.