Can Fingering Give Me An STD?

Man and woman sitting on edge of bed, low section
Eric Savage/The Image Bank/Getty Images

People have sexual encounters in many different ways. Sometimes they involve rubbing skin on skin. Sometimes they involve genital-genital or oral-genital contact. Other times, people use their fingers and hands to stimulate their partners.

Fingering is also known as digital vaginal penetration, manual penetration, heavy petting, and a number of other terms. It can be an enjoyable sexual activity on its own.

It can also be part of foreplay. Many people assume that fingering and petting are very safe sex. They're mostly right. Fingering is much less risky than other forms of penetration. However, research suggests that you can catch an STD from a finger.

Can You Catch an STD from a Finger?

There is very little published research addressing the question of whether fingering is a risk factor for STD transmission. Still, logic says that it is likely that people can catch an STD from someone's fingers. The risk should be lower than for other activities such as oral sex or naked frottage. However, fingering is certainly not risk-free.

It is difficult to do studies on the risk of fingering. Why? Because very few individuals have only experienced fingering as a possible method of STD exposure. That means it can be very hard to sort out the sources of risk. That said, there is some research about the presence of STDs on hands and under fingernails.

It's related to the research on whether STDs can be transmitted by objects.

The best data on whether fingering can give you an STD is probably for HPV. HPV is both extremely common and easily transmitted. That makes it somewhat more easy to study than other STDs. Several studies have found HPV under the fingernails of people with genital HPV infections.

That means that those fingers can expose a partner to HPV.

The risks of fingering and HPV have also been looked at more directly. One study that looked at HPV and fingering examined the HPV risks of fingering in virgin girls and found them to be relatively low. However, that study only looked at one type of HPV. In addition, the number of virgin women who had experienced vaginal fingering was small. Therefore, it would be premature to assume that fingering was entirely safe. That's particularly true since other studies have found an association between anal fingering and HPV.

Reducing the Risk of Getting an STD from Fingering

If you intend to practice vaginal fingering or anal fingering, there are ways to make it safer. You can wear gloves or finger cots. You can also make a point of washing your hands between touching your own genitals and your partner's. This reduces the risk of giving a partner an STD. It also reduces the risk of self-inoculation.

If you have long nails, there are some tricks for using gloves for safe sex. It can help to pad your nails with cotton before putting on the gloves, so as to provide support. That said, you may want to keep your nails trimmed and filed if you use your fingers for a lot of sexual activity.

Doing so reduces the risk of scratching your partner in an unfortunate place. That can be fun, but only if they've consented in advance.

Sources:

Jin F, Prestage GP, Kippax SC, Pell CM, Donovan B, Templeton DJ, Kaldor JM, Grulich AE. Risk Factors for Genital and Anal Warts in a Prospective Cohort of HIV-Negative Homosexual Men: the HIM study. Sex Transm Dis. 2007 Jul;34(7):488-93.

Marrazzo JM, Coffey P, Bingham A. Sexual Practices, Risk Perception and Knowledge of Sexually Transmitted Disease Risk Among Lesbian and Bisexual Women. Perspect Sex Reprod Health. 2005 Mar;37(1):6-12.

Poynten IM, Waterboer T, Jin F, Templeton DJ, Prestage G, Donovan B, Pawlita M, Fairley CK, Garland SM, Grulich AE. Human Papillomavirus Types 6 and 11 Seropositivity: Risk Factors and Association With Ano-genital Warts Among Homosexual Men. J Infect. 2013 Jun;66(6):503-11. doi: 10.1016/j.jinf.2013.03.005.

Rylander E, Ruusuvaara L, Almströmer MW, Evander M, Wadell G. The Absence of Vaginal Human Papillomavirus 16 DNA in Women Who Have Not Experienced Sexual Intercourse. Obstet Gynecol. 1994 May;83(5 Pt 1):735-7.

Sonnex C, Strauss S, Gray JJ. Detection of Human Papillomavirus DNA on the Fingers of Patients With Genital Warts. Sex Transm Infect. 1999 Oct;75(5):317-9. 

Continue Reading