With an uncertain future of COVID-19’s presence at the university — 80 cases as of the week of Sept. 27 — what should students know to protect themselves?
“The safest sex right now is with yourself, so masturbation is going to be safest.”
Talking about sexual health during the pandemic has been a tricky battlefield to overcome. Although some cities like New York City, Washington D.C. and San Francisco have taken the opportunity to educate their citizens on proper safety precautions for sex, it is rare to find universities educating their students on the same matter.
The university is one of many that lacks sexual health guides at this time.
The lack of an official statement does not mean there aren’t people available to talk to — however, the university’s Student Health Services (SHS) remains open to students via in-person, pre-scheduled appointments or via telehealth services.
With an uncertain future of COVID-19’s presence at the university — 80 cases as of the week of Sept. 27 — the question stands: What should students know to protect themselves?
“Three important reminders to remember before we talk about precautions,” Logan Penna, a program coordinator for SHS, said. “You have to have consent, it needs to be enthusiastic, and because of the pandemic, students have an increased awareness for at-risk populations in their home, so it’s important that they think about that too.”
Penna elaborated upon this increased need for safety particularly during the pandemic, emphasizing that there are resources available for those in unstable situations.
“The third thing to keep in mind [is] that for some students, they’re in a situation where it’s unsafe, and they might be living with someone who is abusive towards them,” Penna said. “So, being mindful of the resources that continue to be available, we have SOS (Sexual Offense Support) and National Crisis Lines for people who experience misconduct.”
SOS (Sexual Offense Support) is a 24-hour service available to university students for crisis intervention and victim advocacy involving sexual offenses.
Unlike the aforementioned cities such as New York and Washington D.C., finding information regarding sexual health in the state of Delaware proves more difficult. Healthy Hens, the university’s dedicated peer-education program for students to get advice and support regarding their sexual health, was “retired” in Spring 2020. Both Healthy Hens and SHS’ Promoters of Wellness program were shut down that semester.
Penna asserted that Student Wellness has since spiked their social media presence to compensate for the lack of two previously well-known campus programs. However, students who may have been specifically looking for advice regarding their sexual health might not know who to turn to for guidance following the dissolution of Healthy Hens.
“Being mindful of that, Student Wellness has been putting out more content than they normally would to fill that void,” Penna said. “That’s why we’ve been fairly active with our social media accounts, our website, building the Blue Hen Wellbeing Community, ways that we can get students to interact and still have these conversations.”
While this information provides guidance for students to get the information they need, sexual health in the time of COVID-19 remains uncertain with safety not always guaranteed.
“There’s a lot we still don’t know,” Dr. Martha Simmons, the medical director for Planned Parenthood of Newark, said. “We definitely know that COVID has been isolated in semen and fecal matter, not vaginal fluids, but just because the virus is in those fluids doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s definitely sexually transmitted — it just means that it could be.”
“The more likely route of transmission during sex is going to be saliva and just close contact with somebody and their respiratory droplets,” Simmons said. “I haven’t seen any evidence that wearing a mask if you’re that close together reduces risk; I think avoiding kissing and wearing a mask is something that someone could try, but I don’t have good evidence that it’s going to help with the potential concern of COVID being in feces and semen. Using condoms or another barrier could be really important.”
Simmons offered other alternatives to her prior advice, emphasizing the fact that isolation is safest while the virus is still a risk.
“The safest sex right now is with yourself, so masturbation is going to be safest,” Simmons said. “Beyond that, the next safest thing is going to be mutual masturbation over Zoom or FaceTime, or something like that.”
Although sex during COVID-19 isn’t out of the question, resources still remain available to those who may need them. Similar to SHS, Planned Parenthood of Newark is also doing telehealth and in-person visits by appointment.
“We’re definitely seeing the rates of some of our preventive services drop off a little bit, people are feeling a little less comfortable accessing care,” Simmons said. “So, I think it’s really important for people to know that they can still come in and get tested for STDs; they can still come in and talk about birth control — we actually offer birth control through our app, as well as in person and [via] telehealth.”
Patients can utilize Planned Parenthood’s app, “Planned Parenthood Direct,” in order to set video appointments, schedule telehealth sessions and set up birth control options.
“If someone is going to be sexually active during COVID, we want to make sure they get all the care they need,” Simmons concluded.
Planned Parenthood and the university’s SHS website information for their services can be found respectively through their websites at www.plannedparenthood.org and https://sites.udel.edu/studenthealth/.