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As you may already know, Planned Parenthood Regina (PPR) is currently closed until April 6th, 2020 (but we may need to stay closed longer if it is recommended by Public Health and the Saskatchewan Government) to prevent the spread of the new coronavirus (COVID-19). We are working from home and are currently unable to offer all of the services we used to. If you need assistance or have questions about sexual health, please reach out to us through Facebook Messenger. We will do our best to get back to you between 9 AM and 5 PM from Monday to Friday.
So…what do you need to know?
COVID-19 is very easily transmitted. It’s possible to catch the virus from a person who has it if you are within six feet of them when they cough or sneeze, or if you come into direct contact with their saliva or mucous. The virus has been found in feces of people who are infected, but not yet in semen or vaginal fluids. Sanitizing surfaces that are touched often, frequent handwashing, covering your mouth when you cough, and not touching your face can help decrease your chances of contracting the virus. (Click here for a scientific article on how long the virus can remain on different surfaces.)
Many people who get the virus won’t show any symptoms but are still able to spread it. Some people may end up with regular cold and flu symptoms like a fever or cough and feel fine in a few days, but others may experience shortness of breath and breathing difficulties that would require medical attention. (Check out this link for a self-assessment tool and call the Healthline at 811 if you meet the criteria.)
Social distancing to slow the spread of the virus (flatten the curve) is the strategy recommended by public health to prevent our healthcare systems from being overwhelmed by serious cases of COVID-19. Imagine if all of the people who lined up at Costco to buy toilet paper last week were now lined up at the emergency room with trouble breathing? I mention this not to spread fear or panic, but to explain how important it is that we all do our part as a community to protect ourselves and each other. The measures taken by the government to shut down businesses, close schools, and encourage self-isolation are to buy our healthcare system time to find out more about the virus and prepare to manage the severe cases where people may need to stay in the hospital to recover.
Following the State of Emergency declared by the Saskatchewan government on March 18, 2020, the Sask Health Authority discontinued all non-emergent services, procedures and diagnostics until further notice (emergency, critical care and cancer services are still being offered). This is to reduce risk of further COVID-19 exposure to care providers and patients, and allows the SHA to ensure that medical supplies, protective equipment, and staff are available when needed.
Because the Provincial Lab is focused on COVID-19 testing, STI testing services in the city may be limited at this time. The Sexual Health Clinic on Hamilton Street is not offering STI testing until further notice and we are closed until April 6th (or longer). If you have symptoms of an STI or reason to believe you’ve come into contact with someone who has one, call your family doctor or a walk-in clinic to inquire about STI testing and treatment. Many physicians are offering consults over the phone and can fax prescriptions to a pharmacy (including birth control) for you to pick up, but remember that if you are showing any symptoms of COVID-19, you should be staying home. An app called Lumeca is now free for Sask. residents and allows people to consult doctors and nurses virtually.
If you get your birth control from us, contact us on Facebook Messenger because we are not in the office to answer phones. We will arrange to have our receptionist to call you and find out if our nurse practitioner can fax a prescription to a pharmacy. If cost is an issue, you can talk to a pharmacist about applying for extra support.
We are social beings who crave touch, love, and belonging. We have social and emotional needs that impact our physical and mental health. So what does the COVID-19 pandemic mean for our relationships and sex lives?
On March 21st, 2020, New York City’s Health Department released guidance for sexual activities and reducing the spread of COVID-19. Click here to read the document. Keep in mind that because this is a new virus, we are learning more about it every day so it’s important to stay up-to-date with credible information from the Public Health Agency of Canada, as well as your local and provincial government websites.
Here are highlights from the recommendations by the New York City Health Department:
- You are your safest sex partner (masturbation is normal, healthy and a good way to relieve stress!)
- The next safest partner is someone you live with (it’s best to assume that if one person in a household gets the virus, then everyone in the household will)
- Kissing can spread COVID-19 (this means that make-out sessions with new partners may increase your risk)
- Rimming (mouth on anus) may spread the virus (using dental dams or plastic wrap could reduce risk)
- Wash up before and after sex (clean hands with soap and water, disinfect keyboards and sex toys)
These recommendations are going to be difficult for many people, including sex workers, people who live alone that want to date, and polyamorous folks. These topics are addressed in this week’s podcast episode of the Savage Lovecast, where Dan Savage interviews epidemiologist Daniel Westreich. They discuss what social distancing practices look like, answer listener’s relationship questions, and discuss the challenges many people are facing around sexual intimacy during this pandemic.
Safer sex includes informed consent, so talk to you the people you live with and come into contact with about what measures you are taking to protect yourself and them. Is everyone practicing social distancing and limiting who they come into contact with? Unless you are working out of the home, it’s recommended to only go out for groceries, to the pharmacy, and for walks – where everyone is trying to stay six feet apart. Express your wants and needs, and have honest, open conversations with people about what you are comfortable with based on the information you have. Consent applies to ALL touch and should be practiced in everyday situations by discussing and respecting everyone’s limits on their time, energy, and bodies.
The term social distancing should really be physical distancing. It’s important to maintain social ties and not completely isolate yourself because that can negatively impact your mental health. For the time being, many of us will have to do a lot of our socializing over the phone or online, which may include sexting, watching pornography, and video chats. Can you arrange online chats with friends and family using Facebook Messenger, Google Hangouts, or Zoom? Many people are connecting online through gaming sites and dating apps. Tinder has some advice for that here.
We are sex-positive at PPR, which means that when it comes to sexual activities and experiences, we are only concerned about the consent, pleasure, and well-being of everyone involved or affected by it. We are not here to judge. Since getting sexy with yourself is the safest way to go right now, let’s talk about pornography. People have different opinions about it but we feel that there is no shame in enjoying porn if it feels okay to you and has no negative consequences. Because many sex workers are being negatively affected financially by COVID-19 measures shutting down their business, more people than ever are offering their services online. Remember that sex work is work! If you are able to, it may feel good to pay for your porn to support performers instead of using free tube sites. Sex educator Jamie J. LeClaire talks about this in a recent podcast interview and suggests using Only Fans, AVN Stars, Chaturbate, and private snapchat to pay for services directly, as well as ethical porn sites like: crashpadseries.com, pinklabel.tv, Four Chambers, kink.com, bellesa.co, makelovenotporn.tv, queerporn.tv, etc.
This is a difficult time for us all. If you are feeling anxious, having trouble sleeping, and experiencing high levels of stress, know that you are not alone. We often put a lot of pressure on ourselves and need to take breaks. Allow yourself time to adjust to the changes our society is experiencing. Please take care of yourself and reach out to others if you need help. Here is an article from our friends at Planned Parenthood Toronto about anxiety that offers some strategies to feel better. If you can, look into counselling services offered online and ask about sliding scales to make it more affordable. You can also call the Saskatchewan Healthline at 811 and press 3 to speak with a mental health clinician. Check in on yourself and check in on your friends. Take things one day at a time. We are in this together.