Precum is what emerges when you are aroused. As the dick gets hard, out comes that familiar clear and often inconspicuous fluid known as precum. Precum is the 9pm fireworks of sexual activity, it’s not the main event, it’s not necessarily that exciting and it often goes unnoticed.
But what does precum do? Does it serve a purpose at all? More importantly, is it safe to play with and is there a risk of getting HIV from precum? Allow us to answer some commonly asked questions about precum.
What is precum?
Precum is produced by the ‘Cowper’s Glands’, two small glands near the prostate. It is released upon arousal to neutralise the acidity of the urethra. An evolutionary explanation of precum goes as follows: Precum acts as a bodyguard for sperm, the clear viscous fluid ensures that sperm gets from its house (the prostate) to the club (the vagina) free of damage or injury. Once safely in the vagina, sperm can go forth and make babies. Thank you precum, you’re the best!
Regardless of whether you are trying to procreate or not, the precum will arrive. What we mean by this is that it doesn’t matter if you are having vaginal, anal or oral sex. For this reason we need to have a think about whether or not precum poses a risk for HIV infection when men have sex with men.
Does precum carry HIV?
Research has confirmed that precum does indeed carry HIV. Whether precum carries enough HIV to cause infection is a research question that needs to be studied further. This said, a study was conducted in 2003 which examined the efficacy of delayed condom application in preventing HIV transmission among a population of gay and bisexual men. The study confirmed that men who applied condoms midway through anal intercourse rather than at the start of intercourse were approximately 5 times more likely to acquire HIV than those who applied condoms at the beginning. It is not entirely clear if this risk was primarily due to precum or some other mechanism, however precum is likely to be in the mix.
Can precum transmit HIV during anal sex?
If you are having anal sex with a casual partner it’s a good idea to use a condom from the start of intercourse. Research shows that men who delay condom application during anal sex are at a higher risk of acquiring HIV than those who don’t.
What about precum, oral sex and HIV?
If you are having oral sex with a casual partner, it poses low risk of HIV transmission in most cases. HIV needs an entry point to be transmitted. This could be a cut, sore, or ulcer in the mouth, throat or gums. If you have any of these in your mouth or throat, you may want to avoid coming into contact with any precum via oral sex.
There are ways to prevent HIV transmission
It is important to note that if someone with HIV is on treatment with a sustained undetectable viral load, there is no risk of HIV transmission! As modern gay men we are lucky to have an array of risk reduction strategies at our disposal (like PrEP and undetectable viral load), however condoms remain a great way to prevent HIV when used correctly. Use a condom from start to finish and avoid any risk of acquiring HIV from precum!
Calzavara, Liviana; Burchell, Ann N; Remis, Robert S; Major, Carol; Corey, Paul; Myers, Ted; Millson, Margaret; Wallace, Evelyn, ‘Delayed application of condoms is a risk factor for human immunodeficiency virus infection among homosexual and bisexual men’ American journal of epidemiology, 157, 3.
Pudney J, Oneta M, Mayer K, Seage G 3rd, Anderson D. Pre-ejaculatory fluid as potential vector for sexual transmission of HIV-1. Lancet. 8833, 1470.