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Jul 12, 2000

Some people seem to refer to mutual masturbation as "safe sex" while others use the term "safer". Should we be concerned about this form of sexual activity? Have there been documented cases of people who have not had sexual intercourse and stayed clear of other high risk behaviour, who have been infected this way? Grateful if you could set the record straight. Thanks.

Response from Mr. Sowadsky

Okay, here is a general picture of how HIV infection works. When HIV infected fluids (blood, semen, vaginal secretions) come into contact with an uninfected person's mucous membranes (the lining of the rectum, vagina, penis and mouth) or bloodstream, there is a chance for infection. Cuts, abrasions, and sores increase the chance for infection, as well as the amount of virus coming into contact with those areas. Read through the frequently asked questions on this website to get more specific information on determinants for transmission.

Infected fluids coming into contact with intact skin is not a mode of transmission. Using another person's semen for lubrication increases the risk for transmission because you are potentially introducing HIV to a mucous membrane. So we really need to be specific when we talk about risk, sexual activity and transmission.

You might see in your research that there is a tiny THEORETICAL risk of HIV infection through mutual masturbation. We need to say that because we can never be 100% sure that infection won't happen when a person comes into any contact with the virus. That's why we use the word "safer" instead of "safe." The PROBABILITY of infection through mutual masturbation is extremely low; I am not aware of any documented cases of HIV infection occuring that way. You're only going to be 100% safe by masturbating alone, but that may get boring after a while.

If you are still concerned about HIV infection through this activity, I would recommend that you examine your level of anxiety and determine if it interferes with your interpersonal relationships and your day-to-day functioning. If you feel that your anxiety level is significant, it might be helpful for you to talk with a counselor.

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