Safe Sex, Sex Ed

Researchers Have Found the COVID-19 Coronavirus Present in Semen

May 18, 2020 by Justin Lehmiller

Two months ago, I published a blog post titled “Can the Coronavirus be Transmitted Through Sex?” At the time, I wrote that “there haven’t been any scientific studies as of yet to confirm whether the coronavirus is present in genital fluids, so the jury is still out on whether this virus can be transmitted through unprotected intercourse.” However, we now have data indicating that COVID-19 can indeed show up in genital fluids, specifically semen.

In a new study published in the journal JAMA Network Open, researchers obtained semen samples from 38 men in China who had lab-confirmed cases of COVID-19. About two-thirds of these men had already clinically recovered (meaning they were no longer experiencing symptoms), while the remainder still had an acute infection.

When they analyzed the semen samples, they found that 6 patients (or about 16% of the sample) tested positive for COVID-19. As they reported in the paper, this included “4 of 15 patients (26.7%) who were at the acute stage of infection and 2 of 23 patients (8.7%) who were recovering.”

Test results were unrelated to age, as well as number of days since recovery began.

This is, of course, a very small study—and there’s still a lot of questions it doesn’t answer, including exactly how long the virus can remain present in semen and whether or not the virus can actually be transmitted through semen exposure. However, the fact that the virus appears to be present in the semen of at least some men suggests the potential possibility of sexual transmission of COVID-19, including during the recovery phase.

We already know the virus can be transmitted through close physical contact, so abstaining from partnered sex is vital for those with active infections and symptoms. However, abstinence or using condoms might be potentially important preventative precautions for infected persons whose symptoms have abated but they have not yet fully recovered.

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To learn more about this research, see: Li, D., Jin, M., Bao, P., Zhao, W., & Zhang, S. (2020). Clinical Characteristics and Results of Semen Tests Among Men With Coronavirus Disease 2019. JAMA Network Open3(5), e208292-e208292.

Image Source: 123RF/ Sergey Mikheev

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Written by
Dr. Justin Lehmiller
Founder & Owner of Sex and Psychology

Dr. Justin Lehmiller is a social psychologist and Research Fellow at The Kinsey Institute. He runs the Sex and Psychology blog and podcast and is author of the popular book Tell Me What You Want. Dr. Lehmiller is an award-winning educator, and a prolific researcher who has published more than 50 academic works.

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