September 17, 2020

SEX ON THURSDAY | Safe Sex in the Time of COVID-19

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Dear Cornelia,

It’s my senior year, and I am finally feeling confident about my sexuality. I always imagined I’d spend my last year in Ithaca going on dates and hooking-up with lots of people. Obviously that’s not happening. Is there any way to hook-up safely?

-Pandemic Petrified 


Hi Pandemic Petrified,

I hear you! Firstly, I want to say thank you for being socially conscious. There is no perfect solution to your problem, and that’s what makes 2020 so hard. The Cornell Behavioral Compact does not allow hookups. Together as Cornellians, we promised to “to maintain 6 feet of physical distance between us, and to wear a face-covering at all times.” But I’m afraid hookups will continue happening, and we can only hope that the rest of the Cornell community is as committed to health and safety as you.

Our lives are a balancing act right now.

On one hand, many of us are enjoying privileges rewarded to very few: safe in-person classes and a vast testing apparatus. Most Americans are unfamiliar with this degree of pandemic-level sacrifice. If you feel as though the pandemic hasn’t affected you beyond cock-blocking, perhaps you ought to evaluate your privilege.

On the other hand, we all possess the normal needs and impulses of college-aged adults. To compound that, we are grieving losses both profound and minute — whether that be the suffering of our communities or loss of our long-awaited senior year. I am feeling a mix of rage, terror, stress and loneliness. Perhaps you are too.

Now that I have stepped off my pedestal, here’s how to have a safer pandemic hook-up. There is no such thing as 100% safe sex right now, only safer.

Iconically, the CDC made some suggestions. For one, they encourage *ahem* masturbating: “You are your safest sex partner.” If that’s not enough to satisfy your needs, “Video dates, phone chats, sexting, online chat rooms and group cam rooms are ways to engage in sexual activity with no chance of spreading COVID-19.” My favorite suggestion on the official CDC website reads, “use barriers, like walls.”

Yes, glory holes. You read that right.

Before you decide to have a sexual relationship with another person, first explore your sexuality alone. Get creative, get kinky. Buy a sex toy. Read fanfic. Try a glory hole? Take pride in the fact that you can experience pleasure in a 100% safe way.

If you do decide to pursue an in-person romance, consider a hook-up pact. A hook-up pact is when two people commit to breaking social distancing to hook-up with each other. Just each other.

Before embarking on this tryst, have a conversation — not just with your potential fling, but also your roommates. Both intimate and roommate relationships require open communication and trust. Make sure to set clear guidelines and boundaries. Be honest about your concerns.

Here Are Some Questions to Ask
  1. Do you want to date online or in-person (now or in the future)?
  2. How many people are in your “bubble?”
  3. What are their habits and expectations of those in your “bubble”?
  4. Do you have in-person classes?
  5. Do you plan to travel?
  6. What types of interactions make you comfortable/uncomfortable?
  7. Do you want to meet inside or outdoors? Masked or unmasked?
  8. Are you comfortable with (potential) physical touch? What kind?
  9. What sort of isolation/quarantine is expected before/after a hook-up?
  10. What sort of sanitation protocols are expected before/after a hook-up?
  11. Would we have to break university/dorm/roommate rules and agreements for this to occur?
  12. What do I do if I am no longer comfortable with the situation?
  13. What do we do if Cornell moves into yellow/orange/red zones?

No matter how you slice it, hooking up in a pandemic is risky. I implore all Cornellians to channel discipline, empathy, and patience.

If it makes you feel better, until I am fully vaccinated, I’ll be abstinent. I hope you’ll join me.

Cheers, Cornelia 

Cornelia is a student at Cornell University. Email [email protected] with questions you wish to submit to the author. Sex on Thursday runs every Thursday this semester.