Yes, sex can be pleasurable and fulfilling (and fun!), but it can equally be messy and awkward. Who hasn’t had their fair share of sexual mishaps, like falling off the bed trying to take your pants off or queefing loudly mid-position change? But for most of us, those situations are easy to laugh off and keep going. What happens when a sexual mishap requires a more deliberate solution—say, like getting semen in your eye? It may seem like a scenario straight out of a Judd Apatow movie, but the burning and stinging in your eye that follow are distinctly unfunny.
If your first reaction is to start freaking out, that’s totally understandable. If your next reaction is to frantically scroll through the internet on what to do about it, that’s also understandable. (It's not exactly something everyone wants to ask their friends about.) But, don’t fret. Most of the time, there’s nothing to be concerned about, aside from that initial discomfort.
What happens if you get semen in your eye?
Prepare yourself for some side effects after a facial gone wrong. After all, our eyes are among the most sensitive parts of our body, so anything that isn’t supposed to be in them will cause a strong reaction—even something organic (so to speak) like semen.
“Semen is made up of a fluid composed of a mixture of amino acids, enzymes, proteins, citric acid, zinc, potassium, fructose, phosphorylcholine, prostaglandin, and water,” says Ness Cooper, a clinical sexologist at The Sex Consultant. “Its pH can be slightly more acidic than the fluid coating the eyes, which can upset the eye's natural protective environment and make it react sensitively.”
Cue: Burning, stinging, and overall irritation in your affected eye. This reaction is caused by a histamine response in your eye, which can cause allergic conjunctivitis, says Cooper. (It’s also known as “eye allergies.”) Luckily, redness and irritation typically won’t last longer than an hour or two at most. However, these side effects may last even longer if allergic conjunctivitis is triggered without proper care.
Now you’re aware of what to expect during initial semen-to-eye contact, but that’s only half the battle.
So…what should you do if you get semen in your eye?
For starters, resist the urge to rub your eyes—that’ll just make things worse. “Rubbing semen into your eyes may upset the eyes more, particularly as you’re rubbing in a mucus mixture of salts, sugars, acids, and other components that aren’t natural to the eyes,” says Cooper.
Instead, rinse out your eye with water or a saline solution ASAP. “If you find yourself with semen in your eye, your best course of action is to flush your eyes immediately,” says Jenelle Pierce, CSE, board president of The STI Project and Spokesperson for Positive Singles. “Remove any contacts and then flush your eyes with either cold water, splashing cold water into the eyes for 30-60 seconds, or saline solution by squirting into the corner of the eye nearest your nose and letting the solution run out the other side near your ear.” If you wear contacts, clean them with your usual disinfecting solution (like contact lens solution) or toss them if they’re single-use lenses.
If you’re a regular eye drop user, you can also use those to wash out your eyes. But if you don’t have or typically use eye drops, Pierce recommends skipping it in favor of the above-mentioned ways to flush out your eyes. Why? Eye drops can actually irritate some people’s eyes, and now is not the time to introduce anything else that will further anger your eye.
Once the initial burning and stinging have passed, it’s important to get tested at your earliest convenience. (Better safe than sorry!) Gregory Quayle, MD, ABMS-certified urologist, says that HIV or STI transmission through semen-to-eye contact is “theoretically possible,” but there haven’t been documented cases to confirm that. “If you have any cuts or open wounds around your eyes, it is important to avoid contact with semen,” he adds, as you could contract an STI or other kind of infection through those routes.
When it comes to HIV transmission, your risk varies depending on a few factors. “If your partner is HIV negative then you don't have any risk. If your partner is on antiretroviral therapy, and their viral load is undetectable, you don't have any risk,” says Nsisong Asanga, a field epidemiologist and global health physician. If your partner is HIV positive, but they aren’t on antiretroviral medication or you don't know their status, then your risk is about one in 10,000, she adds.
It may also be a good idea to get tested for monkeypox if you believe you have been exposed to someone who is infected. Though monkeypox is not considered a sexually transmitted infection like gonorrhea or chlamydia (and scientists are still studying whether this latest monkeypox variant could be transmitted through semen and other genital secretions), the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) states that it is “sexually transmissible.” In other words, sex is just one of the ways that monkeypox can be spread from person to person.
“Many monkeypox cases include accompanying eye infections, but those infections don't typically originate in the eye because monkeypox is transmitted via close contact,” adds Pierce. “So, if you have engaged in an activity that left you with possible semen in your eye, then you were already interacting close enough to contract monkeypox from that individual.”
Above all else, schedule an appointment with a health-care provider if you need support on what to do, if you aren’t sure of your partner’s STI status, or if any discomfort continues. They can assess your symptoms and guide you on any next steps.
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