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Sex Q&A: How Safe Are Rim Jobs, Actually?

We asked three experts for all the precautions you should take before mouth-to-butt contact happens.

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Welcome to the new BuzzFeed Sex Q&A where you can ask us your awkward, confusing, gross, embarrassing, or thought-provoking questions, and we'll provide answers from leading sexual health experts. Have a question about sex or sexual health? Send it to sexQs@buzzfeed.com.

This week’s question:

Jenny Chang / BuzzFeed

Q: I have a partner who is infinitely giving in the sack. He rocks my socks off. He's always so busy doing things to/for me that I get too distracted to do much for him. I would love to change this.

One thing he's mentioned once or twice is that he'd like a rim job. In theory I would love to do this if it would give him as much pleasure as he has given me, but I have a few hesitations. Namely, if it is safe/healthy to do this without a barrier.


We are monogamous and I'm on the Pill so we don't otherwise use condoms or dental dams for any bedroom activities.

My googling turns up many different answers from sexperts and normal people, and I don't know how to separate the information wheat from the chaff. The more cautious sources indicate that one should use a dental dam (with some lube on the receiver's side of the dam). Many other sources act like this is an unnecessarily uptight precaution and having a basically clean body is good enough.

I'm not able to discern if the idea of using a dental dam in this scenario is like the recommendation to use a dental dam for cunnilingus or a condom for fellatio, i.e., if it's what "they" should say to give you safer sex information, but in reality many monogamous couples who have been tested for STIs are unlikely to use these and they will (usually) be OK.

In a nutshell, my question is this: Is it reasonably safe to perform unprotected analingus on someone (with whom you are monogamous) who is not experiencing intestinal distress and has showered that day? Or is there always a greater risk for some kind of illness from gastrointestinal bacteria and one should always use a barrier?

Signed,

Would Like to Please

Hi, Would Like to Please! Thanks so much for your question. To help answer it, we checked in with a few experts from various fields, including: New York City sex therapist Dr. Stephen Snyder, proctologist Dr. David Rosenfeld, and Dr. Dennis Fortenberry, professor of pediatrics at Indiana University School of Medicine, who specializes in the research of health risk behaviors and STDs. Here's what they had to say:

Actually, analingus (or rim jobs, rimming, oral anal, tossing salad... whichever term you’d prefer) is reasonably safe to perform without a barrier method — at least in your VERY specific circumstances.

First of all, kudos for putting so much thought into this request. It's awesome that you're looking for ways to ~give back~ to your partner and that you want to make sure you're both being super safe. You guys are like the model for healthy experimenting in a consensual, monogamous relationship. Seriously, you rock. Anyways... Now, we're not saying that rim jobs are totally without risk, but if you're taking the right precautions you should be able to perform unprotected analingus on your partner and be confident that you're being as safe as possible, says Snyder. Here are the major things to keep in mind:
Mikhail Olykaynen / Getty Images / Via thinkstockphotos.com

First of all, kudos for putting so much thought into this request. It's awesome that you're looking for ways to ~give back~ to your partner and that you want to make sure you're both being super safe. You guys are like the model for healthy experimenting in a consensual, monogamous relationship. Seriously, you rock. Anyways...

Now, we're not saying that rim jobs are totally without risk, but if you're taking the right precautions you should be able to perform unprotected analingus on your partner and be confident that you're being as safe as possible, says Snyder. Here are the major things to keep in mind:

STIs can definitely be transmitted via rim jobs, so make sure you’ve both been tested recently.

HBO / Via imwithkanye.tumblr.com

Pretty much every STI can be passed along this way. "Not necessarily because the anus or rectum is infected, but because it's part of the skin that connects the entire genital area, and some of those organisms may simply be moving around," says Fortenberry. Hypothetically, this could be one way to spread chlamydia, gonorrhea, HPV, herpes, syphilis, and even HIV. That said, it's also possible to spread these through unprotected oral sex and penetrative sex, which you said you've been doing. "I'm not sure that the exposure that you would get from direct contact with the anus would be that much different than with oral sex or sex," Fortenberry says.

Hepatitis A and B can also be transmitted this way, so be sure that you've both been vaccinated, says Snyder. If you haven't been — or you're not sure — you can also get tested and vaccinated as an adult.

So as long as you've both recently been tested for STIs, you've both gotten your hepatitis vaccines, and you're both completely monogamous, you shouldn't have to worry about this stuff.

OK, so there’s obviously bacteria down there — but it's maybe not as bad as you think.

For most healthy people with normal bowel habits, the bacteria down there wouldn't be much of an issue, says Rosenfeld. Important: This is considering that neither of you have any strains of harmful illness-causing bacteria or parasites. More on that later! Basically there's bacteria everywhere — in your anus, in your genitals, in your mouth — and getting this run-of-the-mill bacteria in your mouth wouldn't typically do much damage, Rosenfeld says. In fact, bacteria from the anus could actually do more damage in your vagina than in your mouth, since it can lead to a UTI there. (That's why you should never go from anal penetration to vaginal penetration without changing the condom or washing up.) Interestingly, it's less likely for men to get UTIs this way, but still, it's a good idea to perform oral sex on his penis before you move to his anus (rather than the other way around), says Rosenfeld.
Georgijus Pavlovas / Getty Images / Via thinkstockphotos.com

For most healthy people with normal bowel habits, the bacteria down there wouldn't be much of an issue, says Rosenfeld. Important: This is considering that neither of you have any strains of harmful illness-causing bacteria or parasites. More on that later!

Basically there's bacteria everywhere — in your anus, in your genitals, in your mouth — and getting this run-of-the-mill bacteria in your mouth wouldn't typically do much damage, Rosenfeld says.

In fact, bacteria from the anus could actually do more damage in your vagina than in your mouth, since it can lead to a UTI there. (That's why you should never go from anal penetration to vaginal penetration without changing the condom or washing up.) Interestingly, it's less likely for men to get UTIs this way, but still, it's a good idea to perform oral sex on his penis before you move to his anus (rather than the other way around), says Rosenfeld.

BUT if there’s any chance your partner might be sick or experiencing any gastrointestinal distress, skip it.

FOX / Via reactiongifs.com

If your partner could have any bacteria that can potentially spread an infection through the fecal oral route (like salmonella, E. coli, C. difficile, etc.) or any parasites (maybe from a recent trip abroad), that can make rim jobs VERY risky. While most people would know if they had a bug like this (because they would feel either a little or A LOT sick), some might just think their stomach was being weird. So if there's any chance your partner might have something like this, don't perform it without a safe barrier method like a dental dam or a condom cut in half.

Also, you probably want to talk about his poop habits before you go down there without a barrier.

Even just irregular bowel movements could pose a risk for rimming, like if their stool hasn't been totally solid, they're going more or less frequently, or they've had some anal itching lately. These could all be signs that they're not having normal bowel movements, which could mean extra bacteria left hanging around the anus, says Rosenfeld. The goal would be smooth, solid stool that doesn't leave anything behind when you wipe, he explains. That's a sign it's essentially pretty clean back there and you would just need to do some normal washing to make sure there's no lingering germs. (If that's not the case, he'll probably want to check with his doctor about what he can do to become more regular.) Obviously, this means you and your partner should have a conversation about his poops if you want to do this without a barrier method. Hey, it's better than going in there blind, right?
Justine Zwiebel / Via buzzfeed.com

Even just irregular bowel movements could pose a risk for rimming, like if their stool hasn't been totally solid, they're going more or less frequently, or they've had some anal itching lately. These could all be signs that they're not having normal bowel movements, which could mean extra bacteria left hanging around the anus, says Rosenfeld.

The goal would be smooth, solid stool that doesn't leave anything behind when you wipe, he explains. That's a sign it's essentially pretty clean back there and you would just need to do some normal washing to make sure there's no lingering germs. (If that's not the case, he'll probably want to check with his doctor about what he can do to become more regular.) Obviously, this means you and your partner should have a conversation about his poops if you want to do this without a barrier method. Hey, it's better than going in there blind, right?

He should be really, really clean down there. Like, really clean.

Washing with a detachable shower head would be best, but just water and a gentle washcloth should do the trick, says Rosenfeld. Body washes can actually be very irritating on the anus, but if it doesn't cause him any irritation and you both prefer it, you can use a gentle soap. As far as knowing how clean is clean enough, that might be a judgment call. Again, make sure to take everything we've said into consideration here: his STI status, his health, his bathroom habits, etc. Then, if it passes a visual test and a sniff test, you should be in the clear, says Snyder.
Andreypopov / Getty Images / Via thinkstockphotos.com

Washing with a detachable shower head would be best, but just water and a gentle washcloth should do the trick, says Rosenfeld. Body washes can actually be very irritating on the anus, but if it doesn't cause him any irritation and you both prefer it, you can use a gentle soap.

As far as knowing how clean is clean enough, that might be a judgment call. Again, make sure to take everything we've said into consideration here: his STI status, his health, his bathroom habits, etc. Then, if it passes a visual test and a sniff test, you should be in the clear, says Snyder.

But no matter what, only do what you’re comfortable with.

FOX / Via vulture.com

Obviously there's nothing wrong with using a barrier method while rimming if that makes you more comfortable. Just like using a condom during sex, knowing you have that extra protection can sometimes make you feel more liberated and less inhibited. So if that's the case, you can place a dental dam or a cut-in-half condom on your partner's anus (with some lube on the side that touches him).

You can also ease your way into butt play by first blowing warm air on the area or using your fingers and some lube, suggests Snyder. There are tons of nerve endings around there, so just go slow and ask your partner to tell you what feels good.

And if you both want to try it without a barrier, make sure to have a conversation about it first, because we talked about a lot of precautions that you'll want to keep in mind. The important thing to remember is that it's reasonably safe under the specific circumstances we discussed above, but it's not entirely without risk. Also, you still want to make sure there's a high degree of trust and communication between you and your partner. "No sex act is 100% risk-free," says Snyder. "So make sure it's in the context of a trusting relationship where you can rely on the other's honesty."

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