[Question #1685] New Light on Vibrator, HIV Risk

43 months ago
Recently, I came onto this website with a question about HIV risk from vibrator usage. While I trust the answer I was given, I found new information that does not corroborate what Dr. Hook told me on here.
It is of my understanding, that HIV, HSV and HPV, along with other viruses die immediately outside of the body. So on a hard surface, there would be no problem or risk of contraction, because, well, the virus would be dead slash non-infectious.
However, I just learned that jelly, or the jelly-like substance that the Rabbit vibrator is made out of, is incredibly porous and UNABLE TO BE STERILIZED.  Several websites, both reputable and non-reputable, claim that the jelly material soaks in all bacteria and viral stds, and that even after cleaning with soap and water, or bleach, cannot be rid of the pathogens it has received. Therefore, would it not be hypothetically feasible to contract an STD if you reuse a jelly vibrator that has not been cleaned?
I am deeply confused. I thought the virus, particularly HIV, died immediately outside of the body. But it can be held, and still transmissible for any period of time, inside of the jelly. Because that is what my research is showing. That the jelly vibrator is UNABLE TO BE STERIlIZED and RENDERS ALL PATHOGENS INFECTIOUS, due to its porous nature. 
Could someone please help me with this, I am deeply, deeply confused and concerned.
I do not mean to waste anyone's time again, 
I just would like to know my exact risk if someone were to use my vibrator, which is indeed made of jelly. 
Edward W. Hook M.D.
Edward W. Hook M.D.
43 months ago

Welcome back to our Forum.  I'm sorry you continue to worry about the possibility of infections occurring from the use of your vibrator.  Your question deals with a topic for which there are few, if any, good scientific studies.  There are good scientific studies which clearly show that bacterial and viral pathogens, including those that cause STIs, virtually immediately become non-infectious upon exposure to the air, to drying, and to cleansing agents.  Similarly, I can tell you with complete confidence that in our combined over 70 years of practice, attending scientific meetings, or speaking with clients and colleagues, neither of us has seen an STI which was transmitted through use of a contaminated sex toy.  I am aware of one investigator who showed that HPV DNA (which is not the same thing as the virus and does not mean that it is infectious) might be found on the surface of used sex toys but this is not the same thing as being a way that infections are transmitted.  I stand by my earlier answer.

I suppose there may be a theoretical possibility that through contemporaneous shared use that sex toys might transfer infection from one person to another and I would agree that surface nooks and crannies might serve to collect secretions or materials while in use but I would also point out that soap, water, and other cleansing materials also would penetrate those same nooks and crannies that might be places were bacteria or viruses might "hide" and in doing so, would do their job or rendering the device non-infectious.  Further, most experts DO recommend use of condoms and/or cleaning vibrators when partners plan to share their use.  This makes sense.  As an individual who is using her own vibrator without simultaneous sharing, your risk of becoming infected with HIV, HSV or HPV from vibrator use is negligible and substantially lower than your likelihood of being struck by lightning and on the same or lower order of magnitude of risk as occur with masturbation (mutual on solo) which is considered safe sex by all reputable scientific bodies. .

After receiving your question, I did my own search and found no credible reports of vibrator related infections other than, perhaps, bacterial vaginosis.  While we do not typically review other web sites or postings in response to questions, if you would like to provide one or two of the links that worry you the most, I will review them and comment. 

I hope these comments are helpful and reassuring.  EWH

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43 months ago
http://www.aidsmap.com/Sex-toys/page/1323537/
http://www.urban75.com/Health/hiv_infec.html
http://dangerouslilly.com/2010/10/yes-jelly-sex-toys-can-be-dangerous/
Dr. Hook, here are a variety of the links I have found. I can send more if you like. They all verify that jelly vibrators cannot be cleaned. 
43 months ago
For the record, I have never shared my vibrator. But I have reason to believe it was used without my permission before it was sent to me. 
43 months ago
Not to over comment here, but since my vibrator was not wet, when I was using, like there was no evident fluid, would the virus be infectious even if inside of the vibrator? Does it have to be transmitted via bodily fluids directly, or could just the touching of it to my body be enough? 
Edward W. Hook M.D.
Edward W. Hook M.D.
43 months ago

I have looked at each of the sites you provide links to.  Here is the text I found on the first one, copied in its entirely:

"The risk of sharing sex toys (e.g. dildos, butt plugs and other objects meant to be inserted into the rectum and/or vagina) varies according to whether they are covered with condoms, and whether they are properly cleaned (i.e., disinfected) between use with different partners. Sex toys come into direct contact with rectal and/or vaginal mucosal membranes, which can both transmit HIV and are susceptible to infection. Shared an uncleaned dildo or other toy can transfer infectious fluids from an HIV-positive person to an uninfected person, and poses a high transmission risk.

If sex toys are used with new, clean condoms for each partner, or are properly cleaned (i.e., disinfected) before use by the uninfected partner, they pose a negligible risk of transmission. Note that using the same condom with both partners is effectively the same as not using one at all.

There is zero HIV transmission risk attached to using sex toys if they are not shared. However, sex toys are often used before or after other sexual activities. As with fingering, fisting and other forms of play, any tissue damage or inflammation that results from sex toy use can affect the risk of infection during other activities."

The piece talks about sharing and proper cleaning.  It says nothing about sex toys not being able to be cleaned, about new sex toys transmitting infections, or transmission of STIs in settings where a new sex toy was purchased.  My reading of the other sites yields similar results.  I do not see a reason for concern here.

Obviously, there is no way I can respond to your concern that someone may have used your vibrator before you purchased and had it sent to you except to say (again) that in such a circumstance any organisms present would become non-infectious in transit and would not pose a risk to your health.  Further, even if contaminated, just touching your vibrator to your body would not pose a risk either. 

I urge you not to worry about this.  Presumably you purchased the vibrator for your own pleasure.  If you cannot use it without worrying, one wonders whether you should continue to use it.  If you hare worried that it gave you and STI, you could be tested to prove that you were not (I mentioned the availability of low cost testing in my original response to you).  Personally however, I can think of no reason for you to continue to worry about infection from your vibrator in the circumstances you have described.  I would not worry in the least.  EWH

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43 months ago
Well, I trust your medical opinion Dr. Hook. And while I will continue to try to not be worried,  I did find something else, that kind of reiterates what I was trying to say before. 
Not that Wikipedia is the most reputable source,
but if you look in the porous toys section, it says they are difficult to clean because they can hide bacteria and viruses. But I will try to take your advice. Thank you for your help. 
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sex_toy#Vibrators
Edward W. Hook M.D.
Edward W. Hook M.D.
43 months ago

Thanks for your confidence.  I looked at the Wikipedia link you provided as well and while it endorses condom use for vibrators with porous surfaces and acknowledges the challenges associated with cleaning, I would also note that there is no specific comment about risk for infections unless toys are shared between partners.  Thus again, my assessment is that while there is a THEORETICAL risk for infection, that risk is at present hypothetical and tiny when vibrators are used by a single person and cleaned as directed by the manufacturer.  Just as we all have a small risk of being struck by a car when crossing the street or struck by lightning when caught in a thunderstorm, that risk is tiny and can be managed with level headed cautions.  I would not let your concerns interfere with your life and every day activities.

As you know, this is my third reply to your comments.  Thus this thread will be closed later today.  In closing however, I would add that it is well understood that berries such as blackberries or raspberries, because of their numerous nooks and crannies on their surface, are likewise virtually impossible to completely clean and therefore there is a tiny risk of infection from eating them, that risk is likewise tiny and does not keep people from enjoying them.  I would suggest the situation with your vibrator might be viewed in analogous manner.  Further, I would suggest that you strongly consider avoiding the internet on subjects such as these.  While the content is (mostly) well intended, it is also often hypothetical in nature, taken our of context, and can often be misleading.  I wish you the best.  Thank you for your commitment to sexual health.  EWH

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