Can I Get STIs From Rimming?

Can I Get STDs Through Rimming

I’d never heard the phrase “tossing a salad” until my college years (that shows how prudish I was). At first, I thought it was about literal salad — Food sex maybe? Or a kinky way of using dressing? But I was wrong, thank God. 

Anilingus (or "rimming") is an Olympic sport in my book. We all want to win gold, but sadly many of us never even place. A lot of that has to do not only with a lack of passion for it, but slight hesitation around the fact that it’s somebody’s butthole. That's where fecal matter lives. Who wants to put their mouth near that cave?

Actually? A lot of us. Here’s the truth: rimming has been around for centuries. The fascination with it has been around just as long, and it's gone mainstream in recent years. It's incredibly intimate and it feels great to the receiver. But as more people partake, the question remains — just how safe is it? 

Sexually transmitted infections that are spread from skin to skin contact, like Syphilis, can be  contracted by rimming, not because of a butthole itself, but because the bacteria surrounding genital areas tends to move around. 

“Syphilis bacteria live in active skin sores, or lesions,” Dr. Nicholas Moss, director of the HIV and STD Section of Alameda County Public Health Department, has told Plus, “and can infect other skin it comes in contact with. I’ve even seen one patient who had a syphilis sore on his forehead. People can get gonorrhea of the throat, so that’s another infection that could be spread by rimming. Chlamydia of the throat is not spread orally, to my knowledge. So there’s probably no risk of getting or transmitting chlamydia when rimming.” 

While there is no data suggesting that people can catch HIV from rimming, NAM's AIDSMap did report that levels of HIV in rectal mucosal secretions in gay men were higher than those in blood or semen — by about 500 percent more than blood, and 2500 percent more than semen. That’s one reason its always good to use proper lubrication and condoms during penetration. You can also use a dental dam as a barrier between your mouth and the anus. Still, rimming isn't considered a high risk activity when it comes to HIV. According to AIDS.gov, "The chance that an HIV-negative person will get HIV from oral sex with an HIV-positive partner is extremely low. It is difficult to measure the exact risk because people who have oral sex may also have anal or vaginal sex during the same encounter." And if the positive partner has lowered their viral load to undetectable levels, that risk drops down to zero.

To reduce risks of transmission of STIs, always keep an eye out for cuts or abrasions on the tongue, lips, gums, or rectum — as these cuts can become entry points for infection. Additionally, remember to switch condoms before switching partners, and when insert a penis or toy into a vagina following anal sex. If you're having condomless sex with a partner, clean the penis between these positions or it's likely you may end up with a urinary tract infection.

It is also possible to get hepatitis A or B, through contact with fecal matter, which is why it’s important to be vaccinated, or at least know if your partner has been. Again, the issue is that much of these microscopic organisms tend to move around the genital areas, and can linger even when you think you're good and clean. 

All that aside, one real problem lies in potential gut infections that come from ingesting bad bacteria. (Yes, there is good bacteria. They live in your gut and help digest food, and — we're learning — play an important role in regulating health.) 

We all live with bacteria and other microbes. These microscopic bugs are everywhere: in our mouth, our butts, our genitals, our hair, our fingernails. We can’t escape them. For the most part, if you have healthy bowel movements, bacteria down there won’t make much of a difference when someone is rimming you (so long as you washed the germs away in the shower using antibacterial soap — always clean with antibacterial soap prior to anal or oral/anal sex). But if your partner is having bad bowel movements, it's a good idea to skip the salad tonight. 

These bad bacteria often come from contaminated food or other infections: salmonella, E. coli, C. difficile and others. Most people know when they have one of these, because it feels like a stomach bug. More often than not they'll experience diarrhea or stomach pain. But, for HIV-positive people on meds who experience chronic diarrhea regularly, it can be easier for parasitic infections to fly under the radar, which is why it’s more important to take precautions. It's also a good practice to become familiar with the shape of your normal stool — the more solid they are, the more likely it is you don’t have parasitic infection.

So to sum it: Yes, it is possible to get STIs from rimming. (Chances are you knew that anyway, I mean, come on.) Sex by it's very nature is risky. You're always going to be risking something when you get this intimate with another human being (even if it's just your dignity). Sexually transmitted infections are currently on the rise and with the rise of  antibiotic resistant superbugs they're nothing to scoff at. Still, there are simple things you can do to make rimming a safer experience. Keeping clean, monitoring your gut health, and staying fastidious about making sure you have no cuts or abrasions near your mouth or rectum will all help keep you from contracting any bugs.  So remember: Diarrhea and inner gut issues? Bad. Solid and clean bowel movements followed by antibacterial soap scrubbing? Very good.

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