As we continue to adapt to life during a global pandemic, the question of what sex looks like in the time of COVID-19 is weighing heavily on people’s minds — especially as the country begins to slowly open up. It was previously believed that the new coronavirus wasn’t transmissible via semen or vaginal fluid (though rimming was a danger), but according to a recent study out of China, it looks like the jury is still out in regards to semen. Researchers at the Shangqiu Municipal Hospital tested male patients during the height of the pandemic and found that the coronavirus was capable of persisting in their semen, even after they had begun to recover.
CNN reports that of the 38 patients tested, 16% of them had detectable levels of the coronavirus in their semen. A quarter of the patients surveyed in the study were in the acute stage of the infection and 9% were actively recovering. In the research team’s report, published in the medical journal JAMA Network Open, the team writes: “We found that SARS-CoV-2 can be present in the semen of patients with COVID-19, and SARS-CoV-2 may still be detected in the semen of recovering patients.”
While the study had an incredibly small sample size, the findings are still concerning, namely because if you want to answer the question of whether the coronavirus is transmittable through semen, the answer is, at best: “we don’t know.”
“If it could be proved that SARS-CoV-2 can be transmitted sexually in future studies, sexual transmission might be a critical part of the prevention of transmission.” the research team writes. “Abstinence or condom use might be considered as preventive means for these patients… To avoid contact with patients saliva and blood may not be enough, since the survival of SARS-CoV-2 in a recovering patient’s semen maintains the likelihood to infect others.”
Evidence of a virus doesn’t necessarily mean the virus is infectious — though Ebola and Zika were found to be spreadable through semen months after recovery — but the fact that we can’t comfortably say it isn’t transmissible via semen adds another layer of complications to conversations about epidemiology during the pandemic.