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Hookup culture is a normal part of the college social experience, but with a pandemic in the foreground, how will this aspect of campus life change? Students, families and faculty alike are concerned about upholding health regulations to keep COVID-19 at bay. When sex is involved, in particular during one-time encounters, things become more complicated.

Planned Parenthood explains that while the coronavirus is not an STD, you can contract the virus if you have been in close contact with someone who has it. The coronavirus is spread through direct contact with saliva or mucus, but scientists are not yet positive the virus can be transmitted through feces, vaginal fluid, or semen. 

The reality is that there is a chance you may catch COVID-19 while having sex, so your safest bet to avoid all unnecessary interactions during this health emergency. But will students practice physical distancing this semester? There's just so many questions.

Let’s not pretend sex in college doesn’t exist.

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Sex is a taboo subject that many people often can’t discuss comfortably without using obscure metaphors like "the birds and the bees." For this reason, sexual freedom is a cornerstone of the college experience, as students have the ability to explore their desires and learn about their bodies, often for the first time.

It’s vital that hookup culture is treated with an open mind. If it's treated as an off-limites subject, information on how to have sex or not have sex during this pandemic will be difficult to communicate. There are some students who will have casual hookups this year — but there is a difference between having sex and having safe sex. By acknowledging that hookup culture is a reality, we can equip students with the tools they need to make informed decisions for their safety. 

Related Article: Sorry, But if You’re Not Quarantining With Your Partner, You Shouldn’t See Each Other

Sex education isn’t just a show.

As colleges arrange back to school safety measures, they should also consider incorporating curriculum about how to have safe social interactions — hookups included — during the semester. The connection between sex and COVID-19 is just as important as the STI conversations we had in high school. Even though COVID-19 is not a sexually transmitted disease, there is still a risk of sharing air droplets while having sex, kissing, cuddling, or even going on a date. 

Amesh Adalja, Senior Scholar at John Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health Center for Health Security, told Her Campus that any type of social interaction during the pandemic is risky. However, being abstinent for the semester or school year isn’t realistic. Instead, taking safety steps will be more sustainable. Adalja notes that education about how to be sexually active during COVID-19 (and after) should be relayed to students upfront. For example, students should make sure they do not feel sick before engaging in sexual activity, and be honest with partners about symptoms. Even if they have recently been tested on campus, the test is not iron-clad and they could have the virus.

If you’re going to be sexually active, there are many precautions you should keep in mind. The most obvious tips are to avoid kissing, but wear masks and meet in larger spaces which have better ventilation. You should also be tested five-to-seven days before you are sexually active, and continue to be tested monthly. Basically, you have to have the safe sex talk on the first date (or even before) so you both understand the risks of sleeping with each other. Hooking up might also mean that you’ll have to quarantine away from friends and family.

Rather than have multiple sexual partners, experts recommend only having intercourse with a long-term partner who you’ve been quarantining with. Obviously, you may not be living with your partner at school, so now is a good time to experiment with self-pleasure, because you are your safest sexual partner. 

We need to talk about why people are having sex in the first place.

Many people are feeling lonely and isolated right now. Six feet may not seem like a huge distance, but if you’re quarantining on your own, or you haven’t socialized with anyone except your parents, the need for closeness and physical touch is at an all-time high. 

While sex is not necessarily an “essential activity,” the benefits of it can make you feel connected with someone. Even though casual sex has been canceled because of the health risks, you can still find ways to feel close to a partner through virtual sex. As you once did during “regular” college hookups, make your boundaries clear in the beginning, and don’t be afraid to put yourself (virtually) out there. 

COVID-19 or not, practicing safe sex is paramount to your health today, tomorrow, and forever. The bottom line is that experts say you should avoid unnecessary hookups for the time being. But if the desire strikes, please take steps to protect yourself, your partner and those around you who may be put at risk. 

Elizabeth Berry

Conn Coll '21

Elizabeth Berry is an English and Italian Studies double major at Connecticut College with a passion for journalism. She enjoys overnight oats, traveling to new cities, and reading the night away.
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