On hot tub hygiene and lesbian love

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Dear Sasha,

I recently started working in a massage parlour that features a room with a jacuzzi in it. It's rare that clients choose this feature, but when they do we are of course expected to enjoy it naked together in fairly close proximity.

I don't offer complete service and am careful to keep my skin-to-skin contact genital-free.

I'm wondering what other precautions I should be taking to avoid the transmission of STIs through this activity. I had the impression that hot-tub transmission was a myth, but my research is turning up mixed. We don't chlorinate. Should we?

A

"I remember being shocked at a lecture on STIs when the doc said his kid got molluscum contagiosum from a hot tub," says Lyba Spring from Toronto Public Health. "It's just a skin infection, but can take a while to clear up. It's the same treatment as for HPV warts."

I can attest to how pesky molluscum can be; I got it from the pole at work myself. All I remember thinking was, "Mollusks?! I have mollusks?!" It gives you an odd sense of how much of the body is made up of water when you can cultivate, like, oysters on your inner thighs.

"A propos her skin-to-skin contact being genital free, is there any contact in the boxer shorts area?" asks Spring. "If there is, she is at risk for the herpes virus and the human papillomavirus that can lead to warts." Spring also suggests looking at a PDF file from TPH about intimate shaving, which can also put you at risk.

What I get from the hot-tub transmission as myth thing is that it's rare or exceptional to get it from the hot tub itself. Rubbing against someone in said hot tub, chlorinated or not, seems to pose the greatest concern.

"I have not read anywhere that HPV can be transmitted in a hot tub without skin contact -- only molluscum contagiosum," says Spring. "I agree with you that skin-to-skin contact in the ‘boxer shorts' area can transmit HSV or HPV. We learned that chlorine cannot kill hep C, so we stopped recommending using bleach to clean needles and works many years ago. So if she is rubbing up against her clients, my feeling, not based in research, is that she is at risk, in or out of the tub."

Poly Annas

Dear Sasha,

My girlfriend and I are in the process of opening our relationship. We want to do it right, so we're taking it slow and getting as educated as possible. We've been reading The Ethical Slut. Great book! Here is my challenge: I have a bit of an oral fixation. I love going down on women (pussy and ass). I love feeling them swell and react in my mouth, I love tasting them. Just thinking about it makes my mouth tingle. It's not out of control, but I love, love, love it!

I've been trying to find information on safer oral sex for chicks like me, and I'm not finding much. I probably suck at research. (I know -- ha.) Can you give me advice on what to look out for? Would it be best to dental dam everything (please, please say no)? Am I really at risk? Or can an educated eye (look for sores or other symptoms) determine who's safe and who's not?

I haven't had so much as a yeast infection in my life. The last thing I want to do is ignorantly, albeit gleefully, dive into disaster, so I'll adjust if there's just no way to figure out how to have my pussy and eat it too.

Fifi

I cannot be there guiding you through a safer sex regime on every one of your cozy escapades, Fifi. Believe me, I, too, am well aware of the potent allure of the naked anus. What I will say is don't hide your head in the sand, or anywhere else, when it comes to STIs. Part of being open is being able to talk reasonably with everyone you fuck about sexual health. And if you fuck up, you need to fess up. Mind you, if I were around to hand you a dam, it would be this one: sheerglydedams.com.

One good online source for information about STIs and lesbian sex is avert.org. And the AIDS Committee of Toronto is currently revising its excellent pamphlet Women Lovin' Women, but that'll only be out sometime next year. Keep your eye on actoronto.org for notice of its release.

"Probably the biggest risk is to her partner if Fifi has a history of cold sores," says Spring. "The highest number of new cases of genital herpes is caused by HSV-1, the cold sore virus, because someone with a history of cold sores can shed virus in the absence of symptoms. If a partner has a history of HSV-2 on her genitals, it is very unlikely that Fifi would get type 2 on her mouth."

If you want to keep up to date on herpes transmission or speak to someone personally about it, the Phoenix Association is a good resource, at torontoherpes.com.

"At the opposite ‘end' of things, analingus, or rimming, with a person who is infected can be a risk for hepatitis A," says Spring. "Fifi can also pick up intestinal parasites this way."

Of course, you both want to do it right and make educated decisions before you leap in. Please, though, don't put heaps of pressure on yourselves if everything doesn't go according to your ethically slutty plans. A lot of literature on polyamory and non-monogamy takes a pretty idealistic perspective, and you can really start beating yourself up when overwhelming and/or negative feelings present themselves.

I have discovered on my own adventures that you can have wildly divergent reactions from one day to the next. This is the thing about feelings: they change, and sometimes it seems like you spend more time controlling or denying them than really sorting them out.

Looking for community? torontopoly.ca isn't super up-to-date, but you can join their discussion group and ask questions. Responses are generally quick and plentiful.

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