I’m 16 and gay. I recently got into an argument with my parents over whether HIV is spread by saliva or if you can be infected during oral sex. I thought that you were safe kissing and that it’s OK to have oral sex, but that you need to use condoms for anal sex. My parents disagree and I found mixed answers searching online. I trust you, though – what do you say?
Good Gay Boy
You trust me, GGB, but your parents probably wouldn’t. And the whole point of this exchange is getting you the info/ammo you need to set your parents at ease/shoot down their arguments, right? So I’m going to step aside and let some HIV prevention pros have a crack at your questions. Think of this column as a sex-ed gangbang I’ve arranged just for you – but, um, don’t describe it to your parents that way.
“To be exposed to HIV, you would have to come in contact with someone who is HIV-positive and a fluid – semen, vaginal secretions, blood – that can transmit HIV,” says Krishna Stone, assistant director of community relations at Gay Men’s Health Crisis in New York City. “And there would also need to be a point of entry – unprotected vaginal or anal sex without condoms,” that would bring the virus into contact with mucous membranes that could absorb it.
Stone makes a great point: You can’t be exposed to HIV unless you’re having sex with someone who has HIV. The AIDS virus isn’t fire and gay men aren’t twigs; it doesn’t matter how vigorously you rub us against each other, we’re not going to suddenly burst into HIV. If you’re having sex – safe sex – with someone who’s HIV-negative like you, GGB, you have nothing to worry about on the HIV front. Well, except for your boyfriend’s truthfulness and any changes to his HIV status since his last test – which is why you should be having safe sex regardless, even if you think you’re both negative.
But let’s say you’re not with just one guy. Let’s say you’re running around having sex – safe sex – with random guys (not that I’m saying you should). Some of these guys are likely to be HIV-positive. So are you at risk of contracting HIV when you kiss poz guys?
“Kissing carries no risk of HIV transmission according to the Canadian AIDS Society’s HIV transmission guidelines,” says Rui Pires, gay men’s community education coordinator for the AIDS Committee of Toronto, “[because] saliva doesn’t transmit HIV.”
So has anyone ever been infected via kissing?
“There has been a documented case of HIV transmitted through ‘deep kissing,’ [and the infection] occurred because both of those involved had current gum disease and had bleeding gums,” says Beau Gratzer, director of HIV/STD prevention at Howard Brown in Chicago. “Generally speaking, blood must be visible in the saliva in order to pose a risk of HIV transmission.”
So promise your parents that there’ll be no deep kissing after you and your boyfriend go get your wisdom teeth pulled together, OK?
What about oral sex? What kind of risks are there when you’re blowing guys who could be positive?
“It’s reassuring to know that your parents care about your health and well-being, but they’re misinformed about how HIV is transmitted,” says Hunter Hargraves, community initiatives coordinator at the STOP AIDS Project in San Francisco. “Oral sex is very low-risk for transmitting HIV.” Low risk does not mean no risk – some men have been infected giving head. “But even though oral sex is very low-risk for HIV,” adds Hargraves, “other STDs like gonorrhea and chlamydia can still be transmitted via oral sex” – giving and receiving – “and having an STD increases the potential for HIV transmission.”
What can you do to minimize the already low risk of contracting HIV when performing oral sex?
“HIV transmission is possible only if you have a cut or abrasion in your mouth or throat through which the virus can enter your bloodstream,” says Pires. So don’t go down on anyone if you have a cut or abrasion. To avoid creating one, “no flossing or brushing 45 minutes before you go down on somebody,” says Hargraves. You can also minimize your risks, says Howard Brown’s Gratzer, “[by] not getting semen/come in your mouth, reducing your number of oral sex partners and using a [condom] while engaging in oral sex.”
I’d like to add to this list: Don’t sleep with total sleazefags, don’t be a total sleazefag yourself and don’t allow anyone to pressure you into doing anything you don’t want to do.
And now I’m going to give the last word to one of the pros …
“It’s great that you recognize that using condoms for anal sex is the best way to prevent HIV transmission,” says Hargraves. “Score one for gay youth!”firstname.lastname@example.org