Being Alive 1992 Feb 5: 14
What is the risk of HIV transmission during cunnilingus (oral sex on
a woman) or analingus (rimming)? The risk is fairly low, and there are
no documented cases of HIV having been transmitted in either of these
ways. However, because HIV is present in the vaginal fluid, menstrual
blood and feces of an infected woman or man, public health care
workers recommend use of a barrier to protect the person doing the
oral sex/rimming. Barriers are also particularly advisable for use
during rimming, because of the risk of transmitting other
microorganisms, parasites, and the like.
WHAT BARRIERS CAN BE USED?
There are no barriers which have been manufactured or tested
specifically for their ability to prevent HIV transmission during oral
sex. However, some experts believe that both plastic wrap (Saran Wrap,
Glad Wrap, etc.) and latex dental dams are effective for this purpose.
(Contrary to community rumors, either the microwaveable or
non-microwaveable versions of plastic wrap can be used. Please note
that plastic bags, "baggies," trash bags, etc. are not recommended, as
they are considerably weaker than plastic wrap.)
Why are these barriers believed to be effective? Plastic wrap prevents
fluid leakage, and if there is no fluid leakage, there can be no viral
transmission. Also, testing of Glad Wrap brand (and we assume this to
be true of other brands as well) has shown it to prevent passage of
the herpes virus, which is approximately the same size as HIV. Latex
condoms have been proven to be an effective barrier to HIV
transmission, so one assumes that latex dams function the same way.
However, it is important to remember that neither of these types of
barriers have been specifically proven to prevent HIV transmission
during oral sex (because such tests have not been done, and would be
very difficult to conduct.)
WHICH IS BETTER DENTAL DAMS OR PLASTIC WRAP?
Both dental dams and plastic wraps have pros and cons. Plastic wrap is
cheaper, more easily and widely available, thinner, better at
conducting heat and sensation, see-through, easier to use (because it
can be used in larger pieces). However, dental dams are made of a
material (latex) which has been specifically shown to prevent passage
of HIV, while plastic wrap has not. They are thicker than plastic
wrap, and therefore less likely to be torn by fingernails or teeth.
HOW ARE THESE BARRIERS USED?
- Use a new piece of plastic wrap, or a new dam, each time.
- If using plastic wrap: tear off a big piece, so you can cover all
the necessary parts. (Be careful not to tear it with your
fingernails or teeth. A double thickness of wrap may help prevent
- Put some water-based lubricant on your partner's vulva or anus
(whichever you intend to lick).
- Put some of the same lubricant on one side of the plastic wrap/dam.
- Hold the lubricated (sticky) side of the wrap or dam against your
partner's vulva or anus.
- Now you are free to do whatever you like with your mouth, and both
of you will stay safe.
- When you are done, throw the piece of wrap or the used dam away. If
you are in the middle of sex and you've forgotten which side is
which, throw it away, and use a new piece.