HIV, or human immunodeficiency virus, is one of the most dangerous STDs. The virus can be transmitted through any type of unprotected sex, including anal, vaginal, or even oral sex.
Since HIV is transmitted through sexual fluids, many people wonder if they can avoid HIV by avoiding exposure to semen. What are the chances of getting HIV without ejaculation? Is pulling out a reliable way to avoid HIV infection?
Precum, also known as preejaculate, is a clear fluid that comes out of the tip of the penis when it gets hard. In people who are infected with HIV, this fluid has been shown to contain the virus. In fact, the levels of the virus in precum are similar to the levels in semen. You can definitely get HIV from precum.
This is why pulling out is not a reliable on before any type of penetration begins. This will keep your partner from being exposed to your precum.
Precum has definitely been found to carry HIV. However, there’s only a very small volume of precum compared to the volume of semen released when a man ejaculates. Because of this, the risk of HIV from precum is likely to be smaller than from semen. In HIV-positive people who are on ART and have undetectable viral loads, HIV is also undetectable in their precum.
However, there’s definitely still a risk. One study showed that men who were receptive partners during anal sex were five times more likely to get an HIV infection if their partners waited to put the condom on until partway through sex, compared to when the partners put on the condom before inserting the penis. Delayed condom application still catches the semen, but allows the partner to be exposed to precum. This study shows that there is a significant precum HIV risk, and it’s better to put the condom on before inserting the penis.
HIV doesn’t take time to transmit. If fluids that contain HIV touch your mucous membranes or broken skin, then the virus can get into your bloodstream very quickly. Reducing the amount of time that you keep the penis in the vagina or anus won’t prevent HIV transmission. A penis that’s hard already has precum and can transmit HIV, and the vagina and anus always have fluids in them that can transmit HIV.
Transmission of HIV does require the exchange of fluids. Genital rubbing without penetration is a low-risk activity, although it’s not completely risk-free. If even a small amount of precum, semen, or vaginal fluid manages to make its way into the partner’s vagina or anus, then there’s the potential to transmit HIV. If the partner has any small cuts or irritation on the skin, and fluids come into contact with this broken skin, then HIV could make its way into the bloodstream in this way as well.
If you’re grinding with your clothes on, then the risk of HIV transmission is essentially zero. If you’re doing naked rubbing, there is a small risk of transmission if you don’t use a condom, although the risk is extremely small compared to the risk of penetrative sex.
If you want to find out whether you have HIV, the only way to know is to get tested either at a clinic or at home, in order to make sure that you haven’t been exposed to this dangerous virus. There is highly effective treatment available that can allow people with HIV to live long lives, but starting treatment early is important.
Calzavara L, Burchell AN, et al. Delayed application of condoms is a risk factor for human immunodeficiency virus infection among homosexual and bisexual men. Am J Epidemiol 2003 Feb 1;157(3):210-7. doi: 10.1093/aje/kwf195.
Politch JA, Mayer KH, Anderson DJ. HIV-1 is undetectable in preejaculatory secretions from HIV-1-infected men on suppressive HAART. AIDS. 2016;30(12):1899-1903. doi: 10.1097/QAD.0000000000001130.
Pudney J, Oneta M, et al. Pre-ejaculatory fluid as potential vector for sexual transmission of HIV-1. Lancet 1992 Dec 12;340(8833):1470. doi: 10.1016/0140-6736(92)92659-4.
Ways HIV Can Be Transmitted. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2022). https://www.cdc.gov/hiv/basics/hiv-transmission/ways-people-get-hiv.html. Accessed 27 March 2022.