Kissing Is Out, Glory Holes Are In for Students During Pandemic

Austin health professions talk safe sex practices

Holly Bullion, director of clinical quality with Texas Health Action, at the Kind Clinic in Central Austin (Photo by John Anderson)

Kissing Is Out, Glory Holes Are In for Students During Pandemic

Experimentation, be it sexual, physical, or relational, is a significant component of many college experiences. Yet, with the looming threat of coronavirus transmission, these behaviors come with new risks.

Fear not. Health care professionals across the city are equipped with best practices regarding intimacy and dating during this time of uncertainty.

Holly Bullion, nurse practitioner and director of clinical quality with Texas Health Action, the parent organization of Kind Clinic, says during the pandemic sexual "playtime" should be focused below the waist. COVID is transmitted through respiratory droplets, so kissing and sexual activities that involve the mouth come with increased risk of viral spread.

"It's really best to keep your mouth out of any kind of in-person sex play," explained Bullion. "Or really diligently use barrier methods like dental dams or external or internal condoms."

For below-the-waist play, she says missionary position is the most risky since partners are face to face. Getting creative by wearing face masks or having doggy-style or reverse cowgirl sex decreases the risk of transmission. The safest sexual position involves a full physical barrier between partners.

"COVID needs to bring glory holes back, we believe in it," quipped Bullion.

She also ranked sexual interactions from low to high risk for COVID transmission. Masturbation is the safest form of sexual play, followed by: virtual play, in-person play with a partner in your household, group sex with mutually exclusive partners, sex with a partner who is not a friend or acquaintance, and, finally, engaging in orgies with unknown partners.

Bullion recommends people should continue getting tested for sexually transmitted infections. Those with new partners, or partners with new partners, should get tested every three to six months, when they are experiencing symptoms, or if they have potentially been exposed to HIV.

She emphasized there are many places for people to get tested and treated for STIs without feeling stigmatized. People should not avoid getting tested for fear of judgment for having sex during the pandemic.

"For many of us, sex is a really important outlet," said Bullion. "Being sex positive and empowering yourself and knowing what your resources are, I think is the most important thing."

However, she does not recommend that people require potential new partners get tested for the coronavirus due to test shortages, lab processing delays, and limited data on the helpfulness of antibody tests. It is more useful to have an open conversation about STI/HIV statuses and discuss whether either person has recently been diagnosed with COVID. As health officials have advised for months, people should wait about two weeks from the onset of symptoms, or a positive diagnosis, before interacting with new people.

Finding ways to interact with new partners and old lovers has proven challenging during this time of shuttered storefronts and limited occupancy bars and restaurants. In an email to the Chronicle, Katie Wolfe, community health education manager for Planned Parenthood of Greater Texas, provided a few options for safe, COVID-friendly date suggestions. For low-risk, outdoor activities, Wolfe suggested rollerblading and bicycle riding through a park, watching the sunset and stargazing, or hosting an outdoor movie night. Wolfe's virtual date suggestions include cooking a recipe together, DJ'ing a virtual dance party, and playing video or board games with a partner.

"It can be hard," said Wolfe, "but it's important to remember that the pandemic will not last forever. The more people that practice social distancing now, the more lives will be saved and the sooner everyone can get back to doing the things that they enjoy."

This story has been updated since publication to clarify the relationship between Texas Health Action and Kind Clinic.

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sexual intimacy, dating during COVID, coronavirus, Holly Bullion, Katie Wolfe, Back to School 2020

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