Emma McGowan, certified sex educator and writer, reveals what happens if you have sex with a partner who has jock itch in this week's Sex IDK column.
Q: My boyfriend sometimes gets jock itch — is it OK to have sex while he has that? Is there any worry on that transferring to me?
What a fascinating question! Because jock itch lives on the genitals, it totally makes sense to wonder whether or not it’s transferable between people. Let’s take a look first at what jock itch is and then we’ll address the underlying question: Is it kind of an STI?
What Is Jock Itch?
Jock itch is a fungal infection that lives in warm, moist areas — like the groin or between folds of fat on some people’s bodies. Jock itch can be spread to other parts of the body, where it’s called “ringworm.” (But don’t be fooled by the name — it’s a fungal infection, not a worm.) It’s actually the same fungus that’s called “athlete’s foot” when it shows up on the feet! So if someone has athlete’s foot, they should make sure not to use the same towel that they use to dry their feet on their groin, or the infection may spread.
Jock itch can also occur when the right environment — read: warm, dark, sweaty, and with lots of friction — makes it so that a small amount of the fungus on the skin is able to take over beneficial bacteria and multiply. It looks like red skin that starts at the crease of the groin and can spread to the thighs, abdomen, and other parts of the groin. There can also be small blisters, which might itch or flake or burn.
It sounds gross — and it’s certainly unpleasant — but it’s totally treatable with anti-fungal cream, although persistent cases may need a prescription cream. But other than not feeling great and looking kind of icky, there are no serious health repercussions for jock itch.
Is Jock Itch An STI?
Jock itch isn’t classified as an STI — but it can be transmitted sexually. Think about it: This is a fungal infection that likes to live in warm, dark, moist places. When you’re having sex, there’s usually contact between your warm, dark, moist places and your partner’s warm, dark, moist places. It also likes friction and, yeah, sex often involves friction. So if there’s jock itch hanging out on your partner, it’s possible it could be passed on to you.
But body parts do matter here. Jock itch is most common on people with penises — mainly because external genitalia that hangs down (penis and scrotum) is more likely to cause friction than external genitalia that’s close to the torso (vulva) — but it can live on the groins of people with vulvas, too. It’s not as likely, but it can happen. (Fun fact: The same fungus can also show up under your boobs if you're really sweaty!)
So Can I Have Sex With My Partner If They Have Jock Itch?
The short answer is: “Probably not a great idea.” The longer answer is: “No, but…”
Here’s what I mean by that: Sex is a calculated risk. Whether it’s a risk of getting pregnant when you don’t want to or getting an STI or getting your heart broken, there are always risks that come along with sex. So considering the fact that treatment for jock itch can take a couple of weeks, you might not want to wait that long without having sex. And if you have a vulva, the risks of contracting it are pretty low, anyway, although I would be concerned about re-infecting your partner. If you have a penis, however, and are having sex with another person with a penis, you can definitely easily pass it back and forth between you.
So really, it’s up to you. Do you want to risk it? Is it worth it to you? I mean, I sometimes kiss my boyfriend when he has a cold, even though I know it might make me sick. Is that the best choice? Probably not. But it’s worth it to me when I do it. And, like I said, if you do get it, jock itch is totally treatable and doesn’t have long-term health consequences, although it doesn’t feel or look great.
How Can I Prevent Jock Itch?
One thing your boyfriend can do, however, is be diligent about not getting jock itch in the first place. Good hygiene practices are key here — although some people seem to be cursed to get it no matter how clean they are. The goal is to make sure there isn’t a hospitable environment for the fungus to grow in the first place.
Mayo Clinic recommends changing underwear at least once a day; washing workout gear after use; avoiding tight fitting clothes; using powder on the groin after showering; not sharing personal items; and treating athlete’s foot so it doesn’t spread.
But if your boyfriend has jock itch and you're willing to take the risk? I say why not! It's not going to kill you, make you infertile, or make you lost your mind. But it just might make your crotch burn for a while...
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