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You weren’t lied to: Masturbating really is the safest sexual activity.

“There is virtually NO chance of contracting an STD or any other infection from touching your genitals,” says Planned Parenthood.

However, there are three — admittedly rare(!) — instances in which it *is* possible for an STI to be transmitted while masturbating. Read on to learn more.

STI vs. STD

STIs are sexually transmitted infections. STDs are sexually transmitted diseases.

An STI is only considered a disease when it causes symptoms.

Before you can understand how an STI might be transmitted during solo sex, you need to understand how STIs are transmitted generally. Ready?

An STI can be transmitted anytime the bodily fluids of a person who has an STI come into contact with a person who doesn’t have that STI.

STIs transmitted through bodily fluids include:

An STI can also be transmitted through skin-to-skin contact between a person who has an STI and a person who doesn’t have that STI.

STIs transmitted through close physical contact include:

Now onto how transmission might happen during solo sex.

By transmitting an STI from one area to another on your body

The following STIs are considered site-specific:

  • HSV
  • gonorrhea
  • chlamydia
  • trichomoniasis
  • public lice
  • molluscum contagiosum

Site-specific means that they can be transmitted from one site to another.

“If you have vaginal herpes and you have a vaginal herpes outbreak, and you touch your butt with the same hand you touched your vagina with, you could pass the infection onto your butt as well,” says Lisa Finn, sex educator at pleasure product emporium Babeland.

Similarly, if you have oral gonorrhea, use your spit as lube while you anally finger yourself, you can “give” yourself anal gonorrhea.

By using a sex toy after it was used by a person with an STI

“You can’t contract an STI from a sex toy itself,” says Finn.

“But if you use a sex toy after it was used by someone who has an STI, in certain instances an infection can be transmitted,” she says.

Instance #1: The sex toy was made of a porous material

“Porous materials contain tiny microscopic holes in them that can trap bacteria, dust, and infectious pathogens in them… even after the toy is cleaned,” Finn explains.

That means that regardless of whether the toy was cleaned, STI transmission is possible if you’re sharing a porous toy with a person who has an STI.

“If you’re going to be sharing your sex toys, it’s best to share toys made of out of nonporous materials like stainless steel, medical-grade silicone, glass, or ABS plastic,” says Finn.

Instance #2: The sex toy was made of a nonporous material… but wasn’t clean

If you use a sex toy that has bodily fluids on it from a person who has an STI, transmission is possible.

“All you need to keep a nonporous sex toy clean is warm water and fragrance-free soap or a bottle of toy cleaner,” says Finn.

As a result of fluid mixing during mutual masturbation

Mutual masturbation involves masturbating beside someone(s) who’s also masturbating. Fun!

“If you’re in close enough proximity that body fluid can be exchanged, if someone has an STI, an STI can be transmitted,” says Finn.

The bodily fluids in question include:

  • anal mucus
  • blood
  • breast milk
  • ejaculate
  • precum
  • spit
  • vaginal secretion

Ehh…yes and no.

Despite common hope, STIs don’t always make themselves known with burny, bumpy symptoms.

In fact, according to the World Health Organization (WHO), the majority of STIs are completely asymptomatic. That means you shouldn’t wait to experience symptoms to get tested.

When an STI *does* bring about symptoms, they can vary depending on where the STI is located.

Kecia Gaither, MD, who’s double board certified in OB-GYN and maternal fetal medicine, and the director of perinatal services at NYC Health + Hospitals/Lincoln, says common symptoms include:

  • sores, bumps, or blisters at the area of infection
  • pain or burning while urinating or pooping
  • unusual, different smelling, or differently colored discharge
  • swollen tonsils, sore throat, or difficulty swallowing
  • bleeding

Rashmi Kudesia, MD, a medical advisor for SimpleHealth, an online prescriber of birth control for folks of all genders, says you should get tested:

  • whenever you’re experiencing any of the aforementioned symptoms
  • after having sex with someone whose current STI status is unknown
  • after having sex with someone who has an STI
  • after sharing a sex toy with someone who has an STI or whose STI status is unknown
  • if you have concerns about infidelity within your relationship
  • at your annual gynecologist exam or checkup

“Too often is better than too infrequent, as untreated STIs can leave permanent effects,” says Kudesia.

This can include:

A few things!

First, find your current STI status, making sure to get tested in all areas of possible infection.

If you have an STI, you can avoid transmitting it to other areas of your body by:

  • washing your hands before play and before touching a new location
  • using store-bought lubricant, not spit
  • waiting to touch the part of your body that currently has an infection until the outbreak is over, or you receive a negative test result
  • switching the external condom, finger condom, or glove on your hand when you switch from touching your front genitals to your back hole
  • putting a new condom on your sex toy before using it on a new part of your body
  • properly cleaning your nonporous sex toy before using it on a new part of your body

If you’re sharing sex toys with someone, make sure the toy is made of a nonporous material and clean it before and after use every (!) single (!) time (!).

Oh, and be sure to clean it t-h-o-r-o-u-g-h-l-y.

“If you clean a toy with sex toy cleaning spray, there’s always the possibility of human error and not accurately cleaning the whole toy,” says Finn.

Finally, if you’re going to be mutually masturbating with someone IRL, Finn recommends talking about STIs.

“It’s always best to share your current STI status and last testing date before asking someone what their current STI status is,” she says.

You might say:

  • “I was tested for STIs last week, tested negative across the board, and haven’t had in-person sex with anyone since. When were you last STI tested?”
  • “Just wanted to let you know that I’m HSV-positive. I haven’t had an outbreak since October, but I wanted to let you know so that you don’t use my sex toy on yourself without washing it first.”
  • “Before we mutually masturbate I want to get STI tested just in case there’s fluid transfer. Do you want to go to Planned Parenthood together this weekend?”

If you and your partner receive a positive result — or don’t know your current STI status — it’s best to avoid sharing toys, maintain distance between your bodies, and come up with a game plan for collecting fluid.

For example: Will you ejaculate into a T-shirt? Will you put a towel over your legs before you squirt? Will you take a quick bath before cuddling after?

Ask your doctor any questions you have about the STI(s) you tested positive for.

For example, can this STI cure? Is there medication you can take to manage this STI?

“You should also contact any partners you’ve been in contact with since your last negative test, so they can receive proper treatment,” says Gaither.

As for what this positive result means for your masturbation practice, the answer is not much!

“Being STI-positive doesn’t take masturbation or mutual masturbation off the table,” says Finn.

“It just means you want to be careful not to spread it to other parts of your body, if possible,” explains Finn.

“And that you want to take proper precautions with anyone you’re mutually masturbating or sharing sex toys with.” Makes sense!

Masturbating (and mutually masturbating!) are still two of the safest sex acts out there. But STI transmission *is* possible in a few situations.

Keeping the above tips in mind can help reduce the risk of transmission!

Gabrielle Kassel is a New York-based sex and wellness writer and CrossFit Level 1 Trainer. She’s become a morning person, tested over 200 vibrators, and eaten, drunk, and brushed with charcoal — all in the name of journalism. In her free time, she can be found reading self-help books and romance novels, bench-pressing, or pole dancing. Follow her on Instagram.