From Bukkake "face orgies" to mere sticky hands or stray spunky spurts, OutUK's
Adrian Gillan asks if safe sex literature has a blind spot concerning the potential
risk of HIV transmission through getting semen in eyes. Valid question or undue alarm?
Your eye and inner eyelids are protected by the conjunctiva, a mucous membrane. It
is generally accepted that HIV can, theoretically at least, pass through mucous
membranes. Getting a guy's semen - a bodily fluid which, like blood, can support
high HIV viral loads - into one's eyes is certainly possible in a wide variety
of sexual contexts.
Semen in eye (SIE) needn't just occur through overt ejaculation over another person's face,
although many of us will have asked for this or done it to others at some time in our
sex lives, and some of us may even enjoy it as a well-established fetish - look at
the number of "Bukkake" porn sites out there on the web. SIE could also occur
unintentionally via surprise stray spurting spunk or through the relatively
everyday process of getting someone else's cum or pre-cum onto your hand and
then said hand into your eyes. And - whatever the route - once semen gets in
eye: scratch, scratch, scratch!
So without being alarmist - that is certainly not the point of this feature -
it seems a reasonable question, at least, to ask as to whether SIE transmission
is indeed possible and, if so, how high or low the risk is. Yet we read relatively
little about this topic in safe sex literature and the few medics I've asked in
STI clinics over the years often seem vague or non-committal.
Initial doubts are hardly assuaged by Googling "semen HIV eye" and surfing a
wide range of advice, from the typically tight-lipped to these thoughts from
Rick Sowadsky, a state STI specialist from Nevada USA, responding to a man
who's convinced he could only have become positive through getting his positive
partner's cum in his eyes: "Getting semen in the eye is certainly a possibility
of transmission. Blood getting into the eyes can also be risky, which is why
healthcare workers (like dentists) wear eye goggles when doing procedures that
have a likelihood of this happening. The linings of the eyes are made of mucous
membranes. HIV can easily pass through mucous membranes."
"When something gets into the eye, the first thing
that people naturally do is rub their eyes.
This can easily cause microscopic cuts
and abrasions in the mucous membranes lining the eyes. Since semen contains high
concentrations of HIV, and since there is a distinct possibility of HIV getting
into the bloodstream through the eyes (especially if you rub them), it would not
be surprising for HIV to be transmitted in this particular way."
Sowadsky goes on to advise: "Be careful not to get semen or cum in your eyes as
this is potentially risky. If you are aware of the risk, you can try to stay out
of the line of fire. If you get semen in your eyes, they will sting. Don't rub
them. Try rinsing them with warm water or if you have in-date eye drops you can use that as well."
"Ocular transmission is something I have heard of before," says Paul Bates of Crusaid.
"However it is not something we would have a policy on - or a necessary view on
which we could advance. Speak to the National AIDS Trust."