anonymous on September 2, 2011

Can I get HIV from heavy petting?

A few days ago, I had sex with a girl I didn’t know. I used a condom for vaginal sex, but not for oral sex. Is it possible that I have HIV? It’s my understanding that I’m only at risk if she had blood in her saliva…is that right?

Also, in the case of intercourse, is it possible to get HIV from vaginal fluid that makes its way down the condom to the unprotected base of the penis or stomach? And if I did some heavy petting with an HIV infected girl (naked and without a condom), will her vaginal fluid infect me then – even though there was no penetration or ejaculation without a condom?

answered by Daniel Perlman, MD, MBA on September 2, 2011

I’m glad you asked these questions. It’s important to educate yourself about HIV risks and HIV prevention. Let’s take your questions one at a time…

First, what about heavy petting? When it comes to transmitting HIV or other STDs, unprotected heavy petting isn’t as risky as anal, vaginal or oral sex…but it isn’t risk-free. If your penis accidentally enters an infected partner’s vagina or rubs against it without a condom, you’re at risk for HIV and other STDs, like herpes, that are spread through skin-to-skin contact.

Also, yes, you can get HIV from oral sex. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, oral sex may not be as risky as anal or vaginal sex…but you can still get HIV, even if you don’t notice blood in your partner’s saliva. In future, to reduce your risk of getting an STD from oral sex, be sure to use a condom or a dental dam as a barrier between you and the other person’s mouth or genitals…especially if you don’t know the other person’s sexual history or STD status.

As for sex with a condom…according to a study by The University of Texas Medical Branch, condoms – when used properly – reduce the risk of HIV by 80%. It’s important to remember that, while condoms significantly reduce your HIV risk, they don’t eliminate it.
HIV is also present in vaginal fluid…but unless you have any open cuts or sores, it’s unlikely that you’ll get HIV from small amounts of vaginal fluid on the base of your penis or on your stomach.

Since you don’t know your partner’s STD status, it’s a good idea toget tested for common STDs, including HIV. Why? Oral and vaginal sex can put you at risk for more than just HIV…and many of these STDs can be “silent,” meaning they have no symptoms for months or even years. Even if you feel fine, you could have an STD.

As a rule of thumb, it is recommended to get an HIV test at three weeks after a possible recent exposure. But because not all infections will show up in that timeframe, it’s a good idea to get tested again at three months after make sure the first test didn’t miss a possible infection. For more information on when to get tested for HIV and other STDs, please read our STD Testing Windows Guide.

Going forward, the best way to avoid HIV is to know what you’re getting yourself into. Before you have sex with a new partner, you can help protect yourself and your partner by getting tested so that you know each other’s STD status and can take appropriate precautions.

For more information about HIV risk factors, testing and treatment, visit our Expert Guide to HIV.

I wish you good luck in taking care of your sexual health.

Daniel Perlman, MD, MBA

Dr. Perlman is a Colorado-based infectious disease specialist (including HIV and other STDs) in private practice at Greater Denver Infectious Diseases. Additionally, he is Assistant Clinical Professor in the Division of Infectious Diseases at the University of Colorado School of Medicine. Dr. Perlman was educated at theUniversity of Maryland School of Medicine, and completed his residency in internal medicine at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.

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