As a urologist who specializes in sexual health and male infertility, I’ve had concerned patients ask if COVID-19 will affect their current and future fertility potential. Many couples are already dealing with fertility issues beyond their control and see the virus as an additional stressor.
In a recent JAMA study, researchers looked at semen samples from 38 patients, discovering the COVID-19 virus in six samples. Of the six, four patients still had active infection and two were a few days into post-recovery. How COVID-19 gets into the semen, why it stays there and what happens to it once it is there are all questions researchers are trying to answer.
It is still too early to make solid conclusions on COVID-19 and its risk on long-term fertility. Just because it is found in sperm doesn’t mean it can be sexually transmitted, making the study interesting but inconclusive. While we know that viruses such as HIV, hepatitis and the mumps can be transmitted sexually, we don’t know enough yet to say the same can happen with COVID-19.
Is It Safe to Have Sex?
Two inevitable questions are: Is it safe to engage in sexual activity and is it safe to plan on having a baby during the COVID-19 pandemic?
Sexual activity can be high risk for spreading the virus. It’s an easy decision to avoid sexual activity when you know you or your partner has an active infection. It's a far different situation when either you or your partner don’t know if you are infected, making one of you a silent carrier.
While this does not mean you cannot have sex, you should exercise necessary precautions.
Tips for practicing safe sexual practices during COVID-19 include:
Avoid sexual activity with anyone who does not live with you.
If the person you live with has symptoms, avoid sexual and physical contact, including kissing.
If you do decide to be sexually active with someone outside of your home during this period, please take appropriate precautions, including:
Avoid partners who have an active COVID-19 infection.
Wear a mask during sex.
Wash your hands and shower before and after intercourse.
Can I Start Planning for a Baby?
Research shows the COVID-19 virus can be found in semen, but how that affects male fertility is still unknown. How it might affect a baby born nine months later also is unknown. If you are anxious to add a new baby to your world right now, the best advice I can give couples is to avoid getting infected. Do so by avoiding travel to known areas of outbreaks, limiting local travel, wearing a mask, washing your hands and practicing social distancing.
If you or your partner has an active COVID-19 infection, wait a few weeks until after the infection has cleared to try having a baby.
If you are having issues with fertility, speak to your physician about getting a proper examination. For men, this starts with a history, physical exam, lab work and semen analysis. From there, your fertility potential can be improved in a number of ways. You don’t have to wait until the pandemic is over to schedule a telehealth visit with your primary care doctor or urologist.
Other Reasons for Infertility
It’s important to remind yourself of the more common causes of infertility in men. Lifestyle-based risk factors for male infertility include stress, obesity, smoking and excess alcohol use. The pandemic and quarantine have led to increased stress levels and possibly a few added pounds due to less activity. Any significant changes made to your lifestyle (good or bad) can take up to three months to create a measurable change in semen quality.
Don’t get stressed by what you read about COVID-19 online — we simply cannot control what we do not know or fully understand. We can focus on other parts of life instead, helping to improve and maximize not just fertility but also overall health. You can do your part by making better meal choices, exercising regularly and maintaining a positive mindset.
Choose to Stay in Touch
Sign up to receive the latest health news and trends, wellness & prevention tips, and much more from Orlando Health.Sign Up