Can Fingering Give me An STD?

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

Question: Can Fingering Give me An STD?

Answer: Probably.

There is almost no published research addressing the question of whether fingering (digital vaginal penetration, manual penetration, heavy petting, whatever you want to call it) is a risk factor for STD transmission. Still, logic says it should be. 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. The best data on whether fingering can give you an STD is probably for HPV. It's both extremely common and easily transmitted. That makes it somewhat more easy to study than other STDs. 

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. People also not infrequently have HPV under their fingernails.

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.

Sources:
Marrazzo et al. "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 et al. "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