Two People Wearing Face Masks and Drinking a Milkshake

Communication and Coronavirus

How We Can Use Our Interpersonal Relationship Skills to Communicate About COVID-19 Safety

By Felix Hart

As we learn to live in the era of coronavirus, learning how to communicate about potential spread and contamination risk is vital. Recently, I have been struck with how similar these discussions can be with sexual health discussions around sexually transmitted infections (STIs).

Questions like, “When was the last time you were tested?,” and “Who have you come in contact with since then and what do you know about their sexual history?” feel very similar to questions around COVID like “Who do you live with, and who have you come in close contact with recently?” and “What are the risk factors at their jobs and homes?”

There’s a big difference between having sex with someone and getting within 6 feet with them, but the conversations require the same kind of honesty about risk and precausions taken. The words seem similar when vetting a new sexual partner as they are when discussing boundaries with a person who you want to be in a “germ family” with. 

Unsure where to start? Here are some potential questions to address with people you are close to right now:

  • What have their previous exposure and risk factors been?
  • What steps are you both taking to stay safer and reduce risk?
  • How will you communicate when a new exposure happens, or if someone in your world gets sick? How will safety precautions change if someone does get sick?

To make these types of conversations easier, plan to set aside a time to talk specifically. These conversations can feel awkward, and people may initially be reluctant to have them. Acknowledging that there is stigma and shame around illness can help us understand why many of us are hesitant to share our STI status or make plans for if one of us gets sick. Try starting by discussing why you feel the need to have the conversation in the first place. This will ensure that everyone’s concerns are heard and can be properly honored.

Just as with STIs, there is a shame-and-blame mentality emerging in our culture around this virus. This mindset is important to recognize so that we can unlearn it and change the narrative.

It’s important to recognise that getting an STI is a normal part of being sexually active--in fact, the CDC reports that more than 1 in 6 adults have genital herpes!¹ Similarly, getting Covid-19 is possible even if the person has maintained physical distancing guidelines and worn a mask whenever they have left the house.  In neither situation should the person be stigmatized. Instead, we must offer resources to help those who need it to receive the care they need.

Everyone has a different risk profile when it comes to Covid-19. Some of us are immunocompromised or older, and getting sick could have dire consequences. Some of us are connected to someone who is at greater risk so we need to take more precautions. But whatever your risk profile is, communicating about it to those you live with and come into contact with is essential to keep those at a higher risk safe during this time. 

Good communication skills are always amongst the most important tools we have in our relationships with others, and this strange new time we are living in is proving that. We only hope that this opportunity to better hone these skills will last long after the end of this pandemic!

Felix Hart is an As You Like It employee who brings a systemic, interconnected viewpoint to relationships, communication, health, and education. They have a background in cellular biology and are currently a Couples and Family Therapist intern at the University of Oregon centering diverse sexualities, identities and relationship structures.

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