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If we're just rubbing genitals, are there still risks?

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Anonymous asks:

Hi I'm a 17 year old girl and I've been sexually active with my boyfriend for a few months. We always use condoms. But recently we have been trying this new thing where I sit on him, facing him (naked obviously) and his penis is straight up and we just kinda rub up and down for a little bit. He always pees before we do stuff cause I hear that lowers pre-cum risk and also I always watch his penis as we do this so I can make sure I see nothing coming out. Also, My vagina never touches the head, it just rubs the base. Is there a pregnancy risk here? I thought it sounded safe but I still wanted to know for sure. If it's not we'll stop!

Heather Corinna replies:

Research on pre-ejaculate is still a bit on the slim side, but based on what the experts know and report so far, urinating before sexual activity does likely reduce or remove the risk of active sperm being in that fluid.

That's not something we can guarantee yet, but that is the general consensus at the time, and it physiologically makes sense. If and when pre-ejaculate contains sperm, it's due to traces of sperm left over in the urethra from a previous ejaculation, and urinating -- which also happens through the urethra -- does flush out that passageway.

But if you wanted to be as sure as you could that you are not taking pregnancy risks, then the only sensible thing to do is to avoid any direct genital contact without a reliable method of birth control. With you rubbing your genitals on his, being able to tell whose fluids are whose is not an easy task, and probably not something you're paying scholarly attention to while enjoying sex together. When sex is enjoyable for any of us, expecting we can be otherwise attentive to those kinds of things isn't a very realistic expectation. Plus, it's got to be a bit of a buzzkill to be having to worry about that when you're just trying to enjoy yourselves.

Whether there is sperm in pre-ejaculate or not, and whether there is pre-ejaculate at all doesn't remove or reduce all your risks of sexually transmitted infections, either. Without any exchange of fluids -- when there truly is not -- fluid-borne infections can't be spread, but your own fluids count there as well, not just his. Too, two of the most common STIs -- HPV and Herpes -- are spread just from contact, not through fluids. I don't know what the sitch is with you and your boyfriend when it comes to your sexual histories (if you have had other partners for any kind of sex before), or if you've had six months of safer sex practices, including testing, before now, but if you have not had that six-month period of monogamy, latex barriers for genital contact and STI tests, I'd not advise doing what you're doing when it comes to STI risks.

You don't need to stop doing this because of possible risks if it is something you both enjoy. You just may want to do it more safely. It'd be pretty easy for your partner to just slap a condom on for this activity the way he does any other, so again, if you want to do what you can to be sexually active and reduce risks of pregnancy and STIs, that's what I'd advise.

Here are a few more links for you, pertinent to this:

written 27 Jan 2008 . updated 30 Jan 2009

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