Sex and Hep C
Last updated: March 2022
A couple of years ago, I was faced with the "controversial" topic of sex and hep C while doing an interview with Cosmopolitan Magazine. After the introductions were completed, the topic of hepatitis C quickly went to the sexual context. I graciously turned the verbiage back to the most common ways a person can contract hepatitis c. Again, the producer and editor forced the topic of hep C being a sexually transmitted disease. I had to interrupt this, as they were making false accusations on how exactly the disease is classified. I needed them to know: hep C is NOT an STD.
In that moment, I was in a position to address misinformation. Ready or not, I was the one who needed to be frank and honest about how a person can contract hep C during sexual activity.
Being at my shop that morning, I went into my office, closed the door (didn’t want to interrupted), and began to write about a topic that I later realized was much needed out in our communities. I have given my children "the talk”, but to now be put into the realm of publicly giving this talk was not something I took lightly. Sex topics are hard enough to mention or discuss. Suddenly, I had to answer those lingering questions.
Correcting the misconceptions
Hepatitis C is not a sexually transmitted disease. It is blood-borne virus spread by blood-to-blood contact. Sexually, it can be transmitted if a hep C positive partner is menstruating and the other partner has an open sore or cut on their genitalia. If blood is present, that needs to be taken cautiously. Rough sex (that leads to torn tissue or bleeding) can also increase the risk of sexual transmission.1
Overall, the risk of transmission from sexual contact is believed to be low.1 The risk increases for people who have multiple sex partners, have a sexually transmitted disease, or are infected with HIV.1 Oral Sex can also play factor if blood and open sores or bleeding gums are apparent. But keep in mind, hepatitis C can only be transmitted through blood, not saliva. So, sore in mouth combined with blood equals potential exposure
If you are worried about sexual transmission of hepatitis C, consider asking your healthcare provider about what prevention measures you can take. Some ideas include refraining from rough sex that causes bleeding, using protection (such as a condom), and if blood is visible, refraining from sexual activity all together.
If in doubt or worried, consider contacting your doctor for more information, or to get tested. Before sex is involved, it's also important to communicate with your partner and develop an understanding.