Having sex in a natural hot spring — Risks?

Dear Alice,

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, or lake may be fun — these locations aren't necessarily complimentary to safer sex. Further, to specifically address your question, it is possible for bacterial infections to be contracted in a natural hot spring (as well as other bodies of water). In fact, infections from hot springs could have multiple causes, including bacteria, amoeba, Protista, and viruses. Reader, are you currently experiencing any atypical symptoms that may indicate an infection? When in doubt, go get it checked out! It’s better to see your health care provider and leave with a “worried well” diagnosis than to forego a visit when you do in fact have an infection. And, though you didn’t mention getting frisky in a man-made water source such as a swimming pool, hot tub, or bath, there are some similar issues to consider — some of which are listed below.

Here are a few safety concerns you (in the future) 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 (STIs), urinary tract infections, yeast infections, and/or infections caused by the abovementioned pathogens.

Lubrication: Water will wash away the natural lubrication that occurs within the vagina. In turn, decreased lubrication can make sex less comfortable due to increased friction. This increased friction may increase the risk of STIs and infections transmitted via other means for you and your beau. For those condom users whose loins are aflutter at the thought of getting down in a hot spring — H20 may wash away any water-based lubrication that comes on a condom and, in turn, increase the chance that it may break (Note: condoms aren't typically tested in pools, ponds, or hot tubs, or with chemicals found in these hot, wet places). Condom or not, the use of non-water-based lubricant, such as silicone-based ones, may mitigate these issues.

Pregnancy prevention: If you're not using condoms with your monogamous partner, consider using an alternative method of birth control to prevent an unintended pregnancy that's also compatible with underwater sex. Hormonal birth control methods, including the pill, the patch, the NuvaRing, hormonal IUD, and the Depo-Provera shot are good options. Permanent methods, such as tubal ligation and vasectomy, are effective as well. Unfortunately, diaphragms, cervical caps, the contraceptive sponge, and spermicidal methods are not recommended for lovin' in the water.

Hooking up in a hot spring can really light your fire; just be aware of the associated risks. Make sure to plan ahead in terms of using the right kind of protection to reduce the risk of STIs and pregnancy if and when you get wet and wild (again). And, if you suspect you’ve gotten an infection after a romp in the waves, it's likely time to towel off and see a health care provider.

Here’s to splashing around… safely!

Last updated Apr 09, 2015
Originally published Jul 28, 2011

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