When Is It Safe To Have Sex While Sick?

Photographed by Megan Madden.
If your spring cold seems to be lasting for-ever, you might be wondering… is it safe to have sex while sick? There are plenty of illnesses that leave you feeling a bit under the weather but not totally incapacitated, after all. We talked to Eshani Dixit, sex educator and medical student, to find out more.
“The big concern is transmitting your infection from you to your partner, or vice-versa, depending on who’s sick,” Dixit says. “If you’re in close proximity to someone else, you’re going to be breathing in each other’s faces and, presumably, kissing. Obviously, you can transmit a virus in that way.
Advertisement
That means that if you have an illness that’s contagious — such as the common cold — you do risk giving it to your partner if you have sex. But if you decide to risk it, it's best to stick to some kind of manual stimulation or mutual masturbation, Dixit says. This reduces the risk of getting your partner sick, but doesn’t eliminate it, “so if you are immunosuppressed or if your partner is immunosuppressed, this may be not something you want to do,” Dixit adds.
If you do decide to go ahead with any kind of sex while sick, one precaution you can take is to make sure you’re using a barrier method, like condoms, dental dams, or gloves. “Basically, any barrier method will help protect against transmission of a bacteria or virus, whether it’s specifically a sexually transmitted disease, or something like a common cold or the flu,” Dixit explains.
There is one reason (besides the usual ones) why you might want to mutually masturbate (or solo masturbate) while you have a cold: Having an orgasm might actually clear up your stuffy nose. “In theory, having an orgasm can engage your fight-or-flight response, and part of the fight-or-flight response is having your airways dilate,” Dixit explains. “So theoretically, having an orgasm is actually a pretty good way to feel like your airways are opening up, even for just a little bit.”
If you’re sick but it isn’t contagious — for example, asthma, an allergic reaction, or an ear infection — that’s a different story. “You should be fine if it’s not transmittable,” Dixit says. But use common sense. If you have an infection that would be irritated by sex, like a UTI, skip it.
Advertisement

More from Sex & Relationships

R29 Original Series