Having sex in a natural hot spring — risks?

Originally Published: July 29, 2011
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I recently had sex in a natural hot spring without using a condom because my boyfriend and I are monogamous. However, I am concerned that I could have gotten some kind of bacterial infection from it. Could this have happened?

Dear Reader,

Whether you're splashing in a hot spring or wading in a waterfall lagoon, exotic and tropical landscapes can be tempting places to experiment with the art of lovemaking. However, while getting wet and wild in a natural spring, ocean, lake, shower, pool, hot tub, or bath may be fun, none of these locations are considered safer sex options. Further, to specifically address your question, it is possible for bacterial infections to be passed in a natural hot spring (as well as other bodies of water such as lakes). In fact, infections from hot springs could have multiple causes, including bacteria, amoeba, protista, and viruses. While pools, hot tubs, and baths may not carry these particular risks, there are other issues to consider — some of which are listed below. Here are a few safety concerns you and others may want to consider when contemplating getting busy in any body of water:

Increased risk of infection: Water containing salt, chlorine, bacteria, or other pathogens can travel up the vagina during sex (or anus during anal sex), lead to irritation, and/or increase the risk of contracting an infection. This includes HIV and other sexually transmitted infections, urinary tract infections, yeast infections, and/or infections caused by the abovementioned pathogens.

Decreased effectiveness of condoms: Before heating things up, it is important to note that condoms aren't typically tested in pools, ponds, or hot tubs, or with chemicals found in these hot, wet places. If you are having sex without a condom, it is important that you and your partner are both tested for sexually transmitted infections (STIs). This is especially important, given that decreased lubrication underwater can lead to increased friction, and therefore increased susceptibility to STIs and other infections.

Lubrication: Water will wash away any water-based lubrication that comes on a condom, as well as the natural lubrication that occurs within the vagina. Decreased lubrication can make sex less comfortable, and increase the chance that the condom may break. To avoid this problem, you can use a non-water-based lubricant, such as silicone-based lubricants. These are condom safe and water-resistant.

Birth control: If you're not using condoms with your monogamous partner, it is recommended to consider using an alternative method of birth control to prevent an unplanned pregnancy. Hormonal birth control methods, including the pill, the patch, the NuvaRing, hormonal IUD, and the Depo Provera shot will provide the most protection against pregnancy for underwater sex. Permanent methods, such as tubal ligation and vasectomy, are effective as well. On the other hand, condoms, diaphragms and cervical caps, the sponge, and spermicidal methods are not recommended for underwater sex.

Getting sexy under water can be pleasurable, just make sure to understand the risks mentioned above. In addition, plan ahead in terms of using the right kind of protection against STIs and pregnancy before you get wet and wild. Should you visit a natural hot spring and come up with any suspecting symptoms, it is recommended to see a health care provider. S/he may also be able to provide more information on different types of infections. Columbia students can make an appointment through Open Communicator or by calling at x4-2284. Splash around… safely! 

Alice