Kissing style, positions, and locations matter
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What?s the story with having sex on the sniffles? Graham King, MD, a physician with Mayo Clinic Health System in Mankato, Minnesota, has a patient who wears a sanitary mask while sick ? an unproven method that King says could, theoretically, help prevent spreading the illness. But the decision to get horizontal when you?re already laid up comes down to your illness, symptoms, and how you?re feeling. It most likely won?t make you feel worse, but it also won?t speed up your recovery.
?I don?t think it is inherently ?bad? to have sex while you?re sick, as long as you feel up for it,? says Kristen Mark, PhD, director of the Sexual Health Promotion Lab at the University of Kentucky.
Especially when people have influenza, they typically aren?t craving sex, says King. They feel like crap and may have a fever, which can sap all of their energy. They?re also highly contagious, especially from 24 hours before they show any symptoms and up to five to seven days after they?re sick. So, if you have a (rare) case of experiencing increased libido while you?re sick with the flu, it?s best to wait to have sex until the fever breaks and you begin to feel better. ?When you can tell you?ve beaten it, then your body is in the recovery phase,? King says, ?and it?s typically okay to be more intimate with your partner.?
According to a study published in Microbiome, French kissing transfers 80 million bacteria every 10 seconds.
The common cold, on the other hand, usually comes without a fever, so you might feel more inclined to have sex. But as with influenza, all that coughing and sneezing sends droplets into the air that spread the cold virus. You can?t fully eliminate the risk of getting your partner sick when having sex, but there are a few things you can do to reduce it.
First, it?s best to avoid super intimate positions and deep kissing. ?While the virus is not transmitted through any sexual secretions, breathing on each other and kissing where oral secretions are exchanged can transfer the virus from one person to another,? King explains. (Same goes for bacteria: According to a study published in Microbiome, French kissing transfers 80 million bacteria every 10 seconds.)
That means, skip missionary. Instead, ?doggy style is always a great option so that you?re not face-to-face with someone to minimize the spreading of germs,? Mark says. Spooning also works and has the added benefit of taking less energy. And since fighting off a cold tends to leave you with less pep to do anything, a quickie is generally a less-tiring option. ?Being super sick is probably not the best or most relaxing time for prolonged sex,? says Debby Herbenick, PhD, a sex researcher and educator at Indiana University.
Location matters, too: It?s best to do it anywhere but the bed or couch where the sick partner has been resting. ?If you have sex there, chances are you will be rolling around in their respiratory droplets and secretions, and are at increased risk of catching their infection,? King says. Pick a nice, clean area where they haven?t spent a lot of time.
Oral and manual stimulation does not significantly increase the risk of transmission. However, if you?re having sex with multiple partners at once, skip the oral. If person A has a cold and goes down on person B, and then person C goes down on person B, person C could catch something, King explains.
Lastly, mutual masturbation is a great option, Mark says, because you get the intimacy without having the same level of contact. Or just masturbate solo. ?It?s clearly the safest approach and something people can do as they please and in ways they find pleasurable,? Herbenick says. ?If they have a coughing fit and need to take a break, it?s not like it?s spoiling the mood for a partner.?
Remember: Basic hygienic practices for cold and flu also apply to sex. If someone needs to cough or sneeze, they should turn their head, cover their mouth, and then wash their hands before continuing the sack session. Even better, when any intimate interactions end, it?s not a bad idea to shower, King says. It all goes back to keeping your hands (and body) clean so you don?t inadvertently touch your face, mouth, or nose, and contaminate yourself, or spread germs to doorknobs and other surfaces.
While some people wish to have sex when they?re sick simply because they?re in the mood, others may turn to sex because they?ve heard it boosts immunity and could help them get over a cold faster.
Many quote 2015 research by Tierney Lorenz, PhD, now an assistant professor of in the department of psychology and the Center for Brain, Biology, and Behavior at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, to support this ?sex = a stronger immunity? claim. In her work, Lorenz was actually studying reproductive immunology. She wanted to understand how the female immune system fights off pathogens and, at the same time, is able to tolerate and not attack certain ?invaders? including sperm and the embryo as it?s implanting.
So Lorenz and her colleagues collected blood and saliva samples from women throughout their menstrual cycles. These women also reported how sexually active they were during the study.
Compared to abstinent women, those who reported having sex more frequently also had higher levels of certain kinds of helper T-cells, which defend against outside threats and help the body accept ?invaders? like sperm and an embryo, during certain phases of their menstrual cycles. Sexually active women also experienced changes in their immunoglobulin A and G antibodies, which are found respectively in the mucous of the female reproductive tract and the blood.
?The body may use sexual activity as a cue to anticipate the possibility of pregnancy, and prepare the immune system accordingly,? Lorenz says. ?It decreases the number of antibodies in the saliva and vaginal tract? so that sperm can survive and an embryo can grow. ?But it also ramps up production of antibodies in the blood, because the immune system doesn?t want the person to get sick.? And this only happens in sexually active women around the time of ovulation. ?If you?re not sexually active, it doesn?t make sense for the body to alter immune function in ways that potentially introduce a risk of getting sick,? Lorenz says.
As for men, a small study published in 2004 in the journal Neuroimmunomodulation found that masturbating to orgasm increased levels of some natural killer cells in the blood of 11 guys.
However, none of this research means that sex or orgasm boosts immunity. ?The immune system has a lot of pieces to it,? Lorenz explains. ?If it increases in one way, it may decrease in another or cause side effects.? As a hypothetical example, boosting the immune system?s ability to fight off parasites could, theoretically, interfere with the body?s ability to conceive.
Others theorize that orgasm can help alleviate congestion. In the buildup to an orgasm, and during that time, adrenaline increases and blood vessels constrict, so the thinking is that this constriction in your nasal passages helps you breathe more easily. Some also point to the fact that orgasm is linked with increased pain tolerance and perhaps that is why sex makes you feel better temporarily. But none of this is proven.
?There are no studies that show sex can shorten the length of a cold or shorten the duration of symptoms,? King says. ?Having sex triggers many different processes in the body, including endorphins that can give temporary relief from symptoms. But those symptoms usually quickly return as your body returns to normal. Sex is in no way is a cure or something that helps shorten the course or improve things.?
The experts in this article all said that if someone is sick and horny, it?s best to listen to their body. And if there?s any concern that one person may end up infecting the other, then take a night off and rest.