A lot of people call themselves “sexperts,” but Dr. Jess O’Reilly is the real deal. With best-selling books, a Ph.D. in human sexuality, and doctoral research focused on sexual health and HIV education training for teachers, O’Reilly is well-versed in all things pleasure. Between her speaking gigs and television appearances, O’Reilly took time to speak with Plus about how people living with HIV can reawaken their sex lives if they’ve been lying low for the past year.
Once someone living with HIV is vaccinated for COVID, can they feel safe engaging in sex with people they haven’t been quarantined with? Do they still need to steer clear of places like bars, nightclubs, and bathhouses?
The [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] notes that you are not fully vaccinated until two weeks after your final dose and you should still take steps to protect yourself (e.g. wearing masks, physical distancing, avoiding group gatherings). It’s important to note that none of the vaccines offer 100 percent protection. We can anticipate that they will continue to update these guidelines as more people are vaccinated and they learn more about the potential of transmission post-vaccine.
Of course, some people will opt to have sex, as the risk of COVID transmission is greatly reduced once fully vaccinated. The guidelines for gatherings vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction, so you’ll want to check your local restrictions.
How can some HIV-positive people who may have been unable to maintain their drug regimen during quarantine ensure their viral loads are still undetectable?
Speak to your health care practitioner about options for viral load testing and discuss your options for restarting your meds. Your local Walgreens pharmacist has specialized training in HIV care, so you can stop in and ask to speak to them privately or chat with them online 24/7 (Walgreens.com/rx-utility/pharmacychat).
For those who’ve abstained from sex during the COVID pandemic, do you have advice on how to return to their sexual lives in a healthy manner?
You might start by considering your current sexual values:
1. Why do you want to have sex?
2. What appeals to you about sex — physically, emotionally, relationally, practically?
3. What hesitations do you have when it comes to sex?
4. What tends to turn you on as of late?
5. What turns you off?
6. How do you want to feel before, during, and after sex?
7. What do you want from a sexual partner?
8. What do you want to offer to a sexual partner?
9. What have you fantasized about lately?
10. What makes sex fulfilling for you?
Reflecting upon your own sexual values can help you to better understand your own needs — and communicate them to your partner(s).
You might also want to spend some time engaging in solo sex — not just for maintenance but to mindfully explore your body. Try taking your time and avoiding orgasm for a few extra minutes to tune in to the sensations in your body. The more connected you are with your body, the more open you may be connecting with others.
Plan for safer sex. This might involve condoms, testing, lube, other barrier methods as well as testing your viral load. If you have a partner, discuss safer sex in advance.
Follow Dr. Jess on Twitter @SexWithDrJess.