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Frequently Asked Questions About HIV/AIDS (Part One)

January 2010

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What are the risks from fingering someone?

Fingering is considered a low-risk for HIV. I am not aware of any documented cases of anyone becoming infected with HIV specifically through this activity. If there are fresh, open cuts on the fingers, there would be some possibility of infection. However, since most of the time people don't have fresh open cuts on their fingers, this is generally considered a low-risk activity.

Any breakdown in the integrity of the skin can allow HIV to enter the bloodstream. This includes cuts, abrasions, lesions from STDs (like herpes) or skin problems like dermatitis. For cuts, once a scab forms (usually within a few hours), this would no longer give access to the bloodstream, preventing HIV from entering. Of course, the deeper the cut, or the more severe the damage to the skin, the longer it will take for healing to take place. Not everyone heals (and therefore produces a scab) at the same rate, so nobody can give you an exact amount of time it would take for a cut to heal, or for a scab to form. But the larger the cut, the greater the amount of time it would take for a scab to form, and for the cut to heal. Let me repeat that the amount of time it takes for a scab to form, and for a cut to heal, can vary from person to person.

Cuts and abrasions are much more likely to occur on mucous membranes than regular skin. Mucous membranes are found on the head of the penis, the vagina, rectum, eyes, nose and mouth. Mucous membranes are much thinner than the skin found on your hands and other parts of your body. Therefore, mucous membranes are much more likely to have microscopic cuts and abrasions.

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For example, if you were to get vaginal secretions directly in a fresh open cut on your hands, there would be a possibility of infection. But there would be an even greater possibility of infection if vaginal secretions were to get onto a mucous membrane like the mouth or the head of the penis. So don't panic if you get vaginal secretions or semen on your hands. The skin on your hands is much thicker than the linings made of mucous membranes. The thicker the skin, the less the chance for abrasions and cuts.

Fingering is normally not a high risk activity for HIV. All anyone can say is that if there is a fresh open cut on the finger (see above), then there would be some risk of infection if blood, semen, or vaginal secretions had a direct access to that opening. But the risk is less than intercourse or giving oral sex. That's all anybody could ever say on this issue. It is normally a low risk activity for HIV.


Can you get HIV or another sexually transmitted disease from a person who is not infected? Does anal sex "make" the HIV virus?

Many people incorrectly believe that just having sex (anal intercourse, vaginal intercourse, oral sex, etc.) will give you a disease like HIV/AIDS. The fact is, sex by itself is not what gives you an infectious disease. It is having unprotected sex with an infected person that makes sex risky, as far as HIV and other STDs are concerned.

If you have unprotected sex with a person who is not infected, you are at no risk whatsoever for HIV and other STDs. A person cannot give you a disease that they do not have. Also, if you have sex by yourself (solo masturbation), you are at no risk whatsoever for HIV and other STDs. You cannot give HIV (or any other STD) to yourself.

But, if you have unprotected sex with a person who is infected with HIV or another STD, then you would be at risk of infection. If there is any possibility at all that your partner may have HIV or another STD, I strongly encourage the use of condoms every time you have sex. But if your partner is not infected, you are at no risk at all of getting infected. And if you are not infected, you are not putting yourself (or anybody else) at any risk.

Remember, it is not the sex itself that makes a person get infected with HIV or any other STD. It is having unprotected sex with an infected person, that poses a risk of infection.


Back to Answers to Recent Safe Sex Questions
More Frequently Asked Questions


Do you want more information on AIDS, STDs or safer sex? Contact the U.S. Centers for Disease Control Health Line, open 24 hours a day, seven days a week, at 1-800-232-4636. Or visit The Body's Safe Sex and Prevention Forum.

Until next time . . . Work hard, play hard, play safe, stay sober!

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This article was provided by Rick Sowadsky, M.S.P.H..
 
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