In the Netherlands, health authorities recently advised single people to agree with one sex partner on rules for how many people you are allowed to see during the pandemic, in order to minimise the risk of infection.
In Denmark, the country's health chief made it clear last month that its strict approach to social distancing did not extend to sex, either casual or in a steady relationship, with the words “sex is good, sex is healthy“.
Sweden's Public Health Agency has now for the first time published official advice on whether sexual relationships are considered safe in these times of social distancing.
“According to our general advice, you should keep a distance from other people to reduce the risk of spreading Covid-19. This is especially true outside your immediate social circle,” it writes on its website.
“Closeness, intimacy and sex are good for well-being and public health. In relationships, where people are still meeting and are close to each other, sex is no obstacle if you and your partner, or partners, show no symptoms of illness.”
However, when it comes to casual dating, it adds: “Dating and temporary sexual relationships with new partners, on the other hand, pose a risk of getting infected or infecting others.”
Sweden's coronavirus health and safety guidelines include advising people to keep a distance to others in order to avoid spreading the infection, but there is no evidence it is transmitted via sex itself. The virus enters the respiratory tract by the inhalation of droplets, and is not spread via semen or vaginal fluid, but the physical closeness involved in sex brings a risk of inhaling the virus if one of the partners is infected and contagious.
The new advice comes a month after The Local took one for the team and raised the question at a press conference with Swedish health authorities the day after the Danish health chief made his comments.
At the time, the Swedish Public Health Agency's deputy state epidemiologist Anders Wallensten responded: “That's a hard question. We have social distancing which is one of the factors [in reducing the spread of infection]. Within close relationships it's another matter. But above all we're avoiding large gatherings of people and travel, and those are the guidelines that apply above all.”
Consensual sex and intimacy are considered important to public health and have often been a topic of debate in Sweden. In 2019 the Public Health Agency released a major survey on the sex lives of Swedes, in order to better understand sexual and reproductive health and rights in the country.
The survey, which quizzed 50,000 people, came after concerns were raised that Swedes were having less sex than they used to. This was seen as a public health concern because it could potentially be linked to other health issues such as stress, mental health or people's insecurities about their bodies.
However, the survey found that, in general, Swedes have healthy and satisfying sex lives.