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Is hand washing really necessary?

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Jo asks:

Is it a valid concern to be worried about my boyfriend washing his hands before he fingers me? I know he should if he has semen or pre-cum on his hands, but as a guy he hardly washes his hands. You know how some guys are and if I tell him he still won't do it. Could I get infections or could he spread germs that have been on his hands this way? I know the vagina keeps itself pretty clean, so should I do anything about it? Thanks a lot.

Sarah replies:

Absolutely!

Hands are pretty darn dirty places. I mean, think about all the things we touch in a given day! Your hands can definitely carry bacteria and germs on them. Those nasties can then easily make their way into your body if a partner performs manual sex on you. Vaginal tissue is pretty delicate stuff. It is very easily abraded by rough nails, cuticles, or calluses. Even if they don't feel super rough or sharp when you touch them, they can still be enough to cause tears or cuts in your vaginal tissue. These little abrasions are perfect doorways into your body for those germs, etc. Your vagina is also a delicately balanced environment. Yes, it does clean itself. However, substances on hands can throw off the balance in there, which can lead you to develop yeast or bacterial infections. I don't know about you, but I don't want the things that come off door handles, toilets, tables, and everything else in the world in my vagina! Hands should really be washed in order to help prevent this.

It is also important to keep hands and nails well groomed and tidy (so short nails, no rough cuticles or calluses, etc.).

(And of course, as you mentioned, if your partner had ejaculate or pre-ejaculate on his hands, that could increase STI risks in addition.)

Because of this, hand washing should really be a non-negotiable thing when it comes to sexual activity. This is your health we're talking about here. If your partner cares about you, hopefully he'll be willing to take a few moments to do something really simple that will help keep you healthy!

It may be that your partner doesn't realize that this puts you at risk for infection or maybe just doesn't think about it since hands can often look clean when they may not be.

I don't think it has anything inherently to do with him being male. If you look at hand washing behavior of ALL people, it's pretty scary how rarely we wash our hands. If you haven't spoken to him about this, it would be wise to do so.

You can say something like, "Have you ever thought about all the things your hands come into contact with everyday? Well, when you don't wash your hands before manual sex, that introduces all of that stuff into my body, which is really not cool. It could cause me to develop infections! I don't think either one of us want that, so could you please start washing your hands before we have manual sex? This is really important to me." You might even suggest that you start making it a group activity as well. So before you start to be sexually active at all, you both head to the bathroom together and give your hands a good scrub with soap and warm water. (Remember that for hand washing to really help, it has to be done correctly. So washing with soap and warm water for a good amount of time and scrubbing under/around nails, etc.) If hand washing isn't an option, the next best thing (which really is good even if you are doing hand washing) is to use latex or polyurethane gloves with some lubricant for manual sex. This keeps germs and bacteria that are on hands away from your genitals and also provides a smoothness so that you don't have to worry as much about potential abrasions.

And finally, if your partner refuses to wash his hands or to use gloves, I'd suggest that maybe it would be a good time to consider holding off on sexual activity of any sort. Good partners want to take care of us and our health. Asking someone to take a few minutes to wash their hands is not a huge deal. If your partner is unwilling to take a moment to do this, that's really not too cool. Your first concern has to be your health and taking care of you. If your partner is not on board with that, it's definitely time to consider stopping sexual activity until you are both on the same page when it comes to safer sex practices.

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written 07 May 2008 . updated 12 Dec 2013

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