A Small Study Detects Coronavirus in Semen—but Can You Get It From Sex?

What you need to know about COVID-19 and sexual activity.

We know that the new coronavirus can linger in spit and mucus, and now it has been detected in semen. A research team from China on Thursday reported results of the study in JAMA Open Network.

A total of 38 men at Shangqiu Municipal Hospital with confirmed cases of COVID-19 provided semen samples in late January or early February. Six of the men's samples tested positive for SARS-CoV-2 (the virus that causes COVID-19). Of those men, four remained infected and two were recovering.

Because of the study's small sample size and short followup, it's difficult to draw any conclusions. Researchers say much more study is needed to understand things like whether the virus can replicate in the male reproductive system and how long the virus may survive in semen.

It brings us to our next question: Can you contract the coronavirus from having sex? What about kissing? How about oral? The short answer is that experts really don’t know.

“What we know thus far is that COVID-19 is present in respiratory secretions,” Kristin Englund, MD, of the department of infectious disease at the Cleveland Clinic, tells Health. Respiratory secretions include droplets that exit a person's mouth from coughing or sneezing. Because these secretions from an infected person can carry the virus, some countries (like France) are discouraging people from greeting one another with a cheek kiss, reported The Washington Post.

But kissing a partner, of course, is far more intimate than a random peck on the cheek. While it makes sense that kissing someone infected with COVID-19 could leave you infected, “at this point in time, we don’t know these specific details,” says Dr. Englund. What we do know is that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says that the virus can spread from “close contact” with someone, with close contact generally defined as being within six feet of a person. If you’re kissing or having sex, well, you’re well within this limit...and potentially at risk if your partner carries the virus.

Other than the small study from China, little is known about coronavirus in semen, and it remains unclear whether the virus can be transmitted through sex. The same goes for vaginal secretions. “We really can’t make any statements about safety [of sexual activity] when we don’t have any data on it,” says Dr. Englund.

If you're concerned about staying healthy, then it makes sense to avoid kissing or getting physically close to a partner who is showing signs of the coronavirus, which include flu-like symptoms such as coughing, sneezing, and having a fever. “We think that the risk of transmission is greatest when people are symptomatic," says Dr. Englund. If you’re worried that a partner could be a carrier of the coronavirus but is not showing signs, it's best to postpone any sex sessions until you know their health status for sure.

The information in this story is accurate as of press time. However, as the situation surrounding COVID-19 continues to evolve, it's possible that some data have changed since publication. While Health is trying to keep our stories as up-to-date as possible, we also encourage readers to stay informed on news and recommendations for their own communities by using the CDC, WHO, and their local public health department as resources.

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