How risky is kissing?

Executive Director of PhillyGayCalendar

Dear Loran,

I’m a 17 year old slowly falling for someone who has just told me that they are HIV+.  Both the decision to stop the relationship from happening and to keep going seem to be wrong.  (Either I put myself at risk, or potentially wreck his emotional state.)

I don’t even know who to listen to about the risks though.  Some say if I kiss him, I’ll get HIV and some say I won’t unless I have open cuts in my mouth.  Just how risky is all of this?


Dear Decisions,

You’re smart to question what’s right and wrong advice.  There’s a lot of misinformation out there when it comes to HIV. 

Disclaimer: I’m gonna be all serious for a while.  No joking.  No laughs (at first).

I’m not your doctor.  I’m not your dentist.  So rather than give you advice in which I don’t have expertise, I will instead blabber on and on about something I do know about: questions I would ask my own doctor or dentist.  Note that your question about oral risks is just as applicable to me as they are to you.  My goal is to prevent re-infection of a different strain of HIV while yours is to prevent infection of HIV. 

First, let’s get the basics out of the way.  Check out    You’ll find an article there by Dr. Bob Frascino.  You’ll find that HIV is not transmitted through saliva.  This is why you don’t get HIV from drinking fountains and toilet seats.  "How does saliva get on toilet seats," you ask?  Well, that my friend is a topic for a whole other Ask Loran.  However, Dr. Bob says it is transmitted through blood and semen and urine, only if the urine has visible signs of blood.  Be on the safe side; ask your doctor, "Are there any other ways HIV can be transmitted?" 

So in theory, to get HIV from kissing someone, it would require both of you to have bleeding sores or cuts in both your mouths at the same time.  One school of thought says you can create cuts in your mouth by brushing or flossing your teeth or to use mouth wash with alcohol in it.  I’d ask, "Is this true?"  And, "If so, how long should I wait before and after brushing/flossing/mouth washing before I make out or have sex?"  "What is my risk if I accidentally used their toothbrush?"  I’d also ask, "What is my risk if I have bleeding glum disease like gingivitis?"  And, "Can you give me an oral exam now to see in what kind of shape my gums are?"  Additionally, "Do factors like him taking medication or him having an undetectable viral load lessen my risk?"  Note that it’s fair to ask him if he’s on meds and what his viral load is so you can get accurate answers from your physician.  If he won’t tell you, then "Next!" him (move on to the next guy).  Side note: viral load is the measure of how many pieces of HIV he has in his blood.  Finally, I’d ask, "Is there anything else I should know?"  Write down any other questions you can think of so you don’t forget them and take them with you. 

Now, getting get back to your theory that you could wreck his emotional state by dumping him.  Here’s the deal, you’re not responsible for his mental or emotional state.  Ever.  He is.  Furthermore, you’re not going to "wreck" his emotional state any more for dumping him because he has HIV than you would if you dumped him because he kept bringing his imaginary friend "Bob" to your dinner dates.  Being dumped is being dumped, no matter what the reason.  It sucks.  And as I said, rest assured, it’s his job to get over the dumping, not yours. 

With all this talk of dumping, please don’t get the impression that I’m trying to tell you that you should dump him.  Totally the opposite.  Side note: only douche bags dump people because they are HIV positive.  So don’t be a douche bag.  Continue to get to know him.  I’m not saying have sex with him (or even make out with him if you don’t want).  I’m saying continue to get to know him until your heart decides whether or not this is someone you’d like to spend the rest of your weekends with at Home Depot picking out duct tape.  You’re never a douche bag for listening to your heart.  It’s quite the opposite.  What I’m trying to say is, decide with your heart, not with your fear.

If you do get to the whole sex take-all-your-clothes-off and things-going-in-and-out-of-things part, you could always go to his HIV practitioner with him and get the low-down on those risks.  I say where there’s a will there’s a way.  If you don’t want to put yourself at risk but you want to be with him you could try sex over the phone.  Or you could jerk yourselves off sitting should to shoulder while listening to Barry Manilow (YouTube him).  Or you could wear a Wonder Woman (Google her) costume while he spanks you over his knee singing "She’ll be coming round the mountain when she comes!"  OK.  Maybe it’s not what you initially had in mind in terms of sex, but if you’re into someone enough, you’ll realize that your ideas of what’s hot can change.  Heck, even cleaning the shower together can be hot.  Cleaning my shower for me?  Even hotter.


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