Is it safe sex to give a hand job?

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Dear Dr. Myrtle,

Does a "hand job" pose any risk of STI transmission? It seems harmless. This is common in massage places and in casual sex these days.


Sorry, but the "hand-to-penis connection" is a easy way to get some undesirable infections. Three scenarios:

  1. Imagine that you have little tears in your skin from washing too many dishes that day, or you chew your hangnails, or your cat scratched you. This is a direct blood-semen pathway for almost anything to infect you (anything you can think of, including HIV, hepatitis, etc.). Scabs over cuts do not provide protection, since they soften with secretions, liquids, and oils. 
  2. Okay, let’s say you don’t have any tears in your skin at all. Even without the possibility of skin- and semen-to-blood contact, there is still quite a list of critters that you can infect yourself with: herpes type 1 & 2, human papilloma virus (genital warts), crabs, lice, and syphilis. These infections do not need any tear in the skin to infect you, and can infect you before you have the chance to wash your hands. These infections can be passed between two women, two men, a man and a woman, and any other possible combination, because it only takes infected secretions and skin contact to transmit the infection. (Why didn’t your partner tell you that he/she has an infection? People who are infected with HSV, HPV and syphilis usually don’t know it, because they may not have experienced any significant symptoms when they first became infected. Oops on you. This is why you/they need to be tested.)

    Unfortunately, it is also pretty easy to infect a woman after a hand job if the hands that did the work are then inserted into her vagina or anus. Even without a skin tear, many common infections (chlamydia, gonorrhea) infect the infection-fighting white blood cells that are naturally present in the vagina and anus. Your hand acts as a vector in carrying the infection from one place to another. 

  3. You have no skin tears, and you wash your hands immediately. Better, admittedly. You should be able to wash most gonorrhea, chlamydia, trichomonas, etc. off of your hands (soap and hot water, please). Unfortunately, you are still at risk for HSV, HPV and syphillis, and you’d be surprised how clingy crabs and lice can be. Did you check under your fingernails?

What’s the solution? Casual sex can be fun and safe if you protect yourself. Potential playmates are more likely to be willing participants if you show that you are wearing gloves. After all, it goes both ways: you are protecting them from you, too. In the right hands, lubed gloves are slippery, sexy tools of pleasure.

Dr. Myrtle