Sexual health

Pink eye, ringworm, and other unexpected infections you can get from sex

Who knew there are a variety of unexpected infections you can get from sex? Not me–that is, until my recent diagnosis.

I thought I left pink eye behind me when I graduated kindergarten. When, indeed, it was a recent sexual encounter as an adult that landed me with two eyelids nearly glued shut.

In the world of sexual health, we often find ourselves fixated on the well-known risks such as HIV and other common sexually transmitted infections (STIs) such as chlamydia, gonorrhea, and syphilis. After all, these are the things that one may be routinely tested for at sexual health clinics

Who knew there are a variety of unexpected infections you can get from sex? Not me–that is, until my recent diagnosis. 

It was a sultry summer evening when I met Kevin*. Our chemistry was undeniable, and we quickly found ourselves drawn to each other. As the night unfolded, our hands and fingers explored each other’s bodies. 

Days after our rendezvous, I noticed a peculiar irritation in my eye. It was almost like a short hair follicle was in my eye and no matter how hard I rubbed, it would never come out. I was concerned, but ignored the odd feeling until…I woke up the next morning. 

Yellow gunk clogged both of my eyes and I knew exactly what was the problem. This had a familiar feeling from childhood. But could I really have pink eye? I used Telehealth to confirm the diagnosis–and they shared the clinical term for the infection: conjunctivitis. 

The clinician prescribed eye drops, and within two days I was already feeling an improvement. In the case of bacterial infection, such as my own, I found out that I was no longer highly contagious after 24 hours of antibiotic use. The only downside was that my blood-shot red eyes made everyone think Mary Jane was to blame. 

I know that my hands could have been the host to the germs that cause pink eye after having played with Kevin’s butt. I even remember that I didn’t wash my hands afterwards and remember having rubbed my eyes several times during sex because of my allergies. The clinician confirmed that this was indeed a likely way I could have gotten pink eye.

I realized I had to tell other men about my experience, and the importance of hand washing because of our risk when we engage in anal sex. It’s embarrassing, indeed, to admit I didn’t have the utmost highest hygiene, but if my story can save your eyes the pain, let me inspire you!

I took to the web, and quickly found other infections we should be on the lookout for.  One is the common fungal infection ringworm. Ringworm usually presents as a red, scaly or raised rash on the skin. The rash often has a distinct border, which may be slightly elevated and well-defined. This fungal infection, usually associated with skin contact in non-sexual settings, can also be transmitted during intimate encounters as well. Alarmingly, recent cases of drug-resistant ringworm among men who have sex with men in the U.S. have raised concerns among healthcare providers. 

Among the lesser-known infections is Mycoplasma genitalium, or “M gen.” This elusive bacterial infection often goes undetected due to its subtle symptoms, some of which can be mistaken for other STIs. If you do have symptoms, they might include burning, stinging, or pain when you pee, or you might get discharge from your penis, vagina, or front hole. (You can find out more info about testing and treatment here.)  

It doesn’t make sense to be overly afraid of these unusual infections, but it’s an important reminder to pay attention to our bodies and look out for even small issues that may come up. Starting a conversation with a healthcare provider for any concerns is always the best step! 

So, let us embark on this journey with confidence, unafraid to discuss even the most unexpected of infections, as we foster a safer and healthier space for everyone to thrive. The more you know about these other risks from sex, the more you’ll be prepared to protect yourself and live out your sex life fully empowered. 

*Not his real name.

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About the author

Charles Orgbon III

Charles Orgbon III (he/him) is an environmental sustainability consultant by day, and freelance writer by night. When it comes to writing, Charles has done a variety of creative projects, from personal essays to news journalism to even comics and songwriting. In 2020, for example, he released his first EP, "A Survivor's Reward." He loves writing about identity, culture, and sexuality.