When An Ick Makes You Sick: The Shocking Reality Of Poor Sexual Hygiene

Bad breath, dirty fingernails and unwashed bits — these hygiene icks can do so much more than just turn you off…

Dirt and disease are everywhere, but they’re especially prevalent in the bedroom. No matter how hygienic you try to be, there’s almost no escaping some pretty nasty icks. An infection down there from dirty fingernails? Yeah, that’s a thing…

Have you ever been turned off by a partner’s bad sexual hygiene?

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While we know that everything from chewing loudly to a weird laugh can be enough to ruin a relationship, and while you can’t exactly control every turn-off, you can certainly keep it clean in the bedroom.

With Lovehoney finding 63% of Brits admit poor personal hygiene is a turn-off, you know you want to do something about this if you’re planning on getting any action.

Luckily, the more you know, the more you can do to prevent them from happening, so let’s start by looking at what happens when an ick gets serious, according to Elisabeth Neumann, User Research Manager at Lovehoney and Sexologist (M.A.).

How an ick can make you sick

Dirty Fingernails – risk of injection around sensitive body areas

‘Dirty fingernails can cause all sorts of issues when they’re transferred to sensitive areas of the body during intimacy because they harbour microorganisms, bacteria and dirt which all increase the risk of infection for a sexual partner.’

Unwashed Bits – Risk of UTIs or yeast infections

‘Unwashed genitalia may cause UTIs or yeast infections and if someone is carrying a lot of bacteria on their genitalia, the other person could bear the consequences.’ 

Long Nails – Rick of scratches, STDs or skin irritation

‘While long fingernails may be more of a turn off than an issue in their own right, long or sharp fingernails may cause scratches, cuts or other forms of skin irritation, which may increase the risk of infection.’

Not Wiping – Risk of bacterial infection

‘Not wiping properly, or even having skid marks in your underwear can be incredibly harmful for the vulva and the vagina due to the incredible amount of bacteria carried in poo. If a partner doesn’t wipe properly, there’s a risk of this bacteria being transmitted to sexual partners.’

Unclean Bedding – Risk of fungal infections and allergies

‘Unclean bedding is full of bacteria, dirt, dust and even fungal growths which can lead to some pretty nasty infections if not washed on a regular basis.’

If those are making your stomach turn, or worse, you recognise some of those symptoms then don’t panic. We’ve asked the experts exactly what you do (and don’t) need to worry about as well as how to keep yourself in tip-top ick-free health.

Meet Lovehoney’s sexual health expert

First off, we’re absolutely not here to shame or worry anyone by promoting unnecessary levels of cleanliness. In fact, Sexologist (M.A.) Elisabeth is keen to quell your sexual hygiene anxiety, saying:

It is very important to highlight that there is no “perfectly-clean, bacteria-free body”, and hygiene can also be overdone. There is absolutely nothing wrong with being sweaty after a long day or wearing long fingernails, or with many other hygiene “issues” we are often concerned with. 

Only in very critical unhygienic conditions can many of the sexual health issues we associate with uncleanliness actually arise. 

However, these critically unhygienic conditions are easier to come across than you might think. While dirty fingernails or feet may lead to infection if they come in contact with intimate areas, it’s unwashed intimate areas that Elisabeth warns about the most:

Unwashed bits are possibly one of the most critical sexual hygiene issues for the spread of disease and infection. It’s worth saying, though, that yeast infections are totally normal for a person with a vulva no matter how hygienic you are down there. This is especially common when you have a new partner (even a very hygienic one) as you are confronted with new bacteria.

Tackling tough conversations about personal hygiene

It is always important to raise our concerns and share an opinion, especially if personal hygiene is affecting how attracted we feel to our partner or how safe we feel with them says Elisabeth.

When talking to your partner, you should do it in a respectful way, and not blame them for the situation. Give your partner time to process the information, and offer your support if you feel able to do so. For example, “I understand that it is hard to brush your teeth at night when you are already sleepy, but maybe we can do it together before we go to bed”.

Talking about personal hygiene is still kind of taboo, but the conversation is necessary to learn and de-stigmatize it.

It might not always be someone else struggling with hygiene though, it might be that a partner confronts you with concerns. Elisabeth explains the best way to handle this scenario:

It can be challenging and hurtful if your partner tells you that they have concerns about your personal hygiene. Try to not be immediately defensive. Also, there is no reason to be overly ashamed! 

Check in with yourself and see if there is some truth about what you have heard, and what your possibilities are to address the issue. In the end, open communication is the key to any fulfilling relationship, and this includes conversations about expectations and experiences around personal hygiene.

The biggest icks, according to Reddit

Within the dating scene, bad-mouthing friends, using the word ‘ick’, and claiming all your exes were crazy are some of the biggest turnoffs for Reddit users.

We analysed the comments on 30 of Reddit’s biggest ick submission threads and found the ten submissions with the highest amount of upvotes to discover what really puts us off a potential partner:

  1. Badmouthing friends behind their back
  2. People who use the term ‘the ick’
  3. Saying “All my exes were crazy”
  4. Dry texting
  5. Sharing obvious scam competitions on facebook
  6. One word responses
  7. Bad hygiene
  8. Acting snobby
  9. Always being on the phone
  10. Being mean to food service workers

To look deeper into ick threads on Reddit, we also analysed all the submissions to see which words cropped up the most. No surprises, the word hygiene was mentioned 32 times across the 30 threads – one of the most prevalent ick terms used.

Personal hygiene was also seemingly found to be more important than female prejudice, with the term ‘hygiene’ being mentioned three times as many as sexism-related icks, and twice as much as mansplaining ones.

Young gay men are at most STI risk

With some common personal hygiene icks potentially leading to STIs in extreme cases, we looked at the England STI breakdown in 2022 (according to gov.uk).

Third of genital gonorrhoea cases are gay or bisexual men

According to 2022’s data, 33% of genital gonorrhoea cases came from gay or bisexual men who sleep with men – higher than the percentage from women who sleep with men (29%), men who sleep with women (23%) and women who sleep with women (1%).

This unfortunately isn’t surprising given our previous research found 80% of Gen Z didn’t learn about contraception in non-heterosexual relationships in their school’s sex education classes. During this survey, we also found 87% think sex education needs to be made more inclusive.

Gen Z’s top the STI lists

Looking at the age breakdowns for Chlamydia, Gonorrhoea, Herpes, and Syphilis for last year, the 20-24 age group had the highest percentage of cases in almost all the STIs analysed.

  • Chlamydia – 48% of cases were 20-24-year-olds
  • Gonorrhoea – 40% of cases were 20-24-year-olds
  • Herpes – 42% of cases were 20-24-year-olds
  • Syphilis – 23% of cases were 20-24-year-olds

The horror stories

Are you appalled at some of these personal hygiene icks, wondering who even does that?!

Unfortunately, more than you think. Here are some of the horror stories the internet has to offer:

  • Was giving him a massage before intimacy and he flipped on his stomach. The worst smell I’ve ever smelt in my life was emanating from his behind, it’s crazy how some straight men literally refuse to wipe their ass correctly [source]
  • We get out and start having sex again when we take a break…this man scoots off the bed and leaves boo-boo marks ON THE SHEETS. it was disgusting. just to find out later that he never wiped correctly and his underwear always had stains in it.[source]
  • He invited me to his house [where] shock horror his fitted sheets had holes in it he had one pillow and he was ashing his cigs and stuff on the bed frame [source]
  • Dear sweet god, men, cut your finger and toenails. So many dudes don’t think it’s important but when it leads to snagged linens or cut skin it fucking MATTERS. [source]

Sexual hygiene education

We’ve pulled together some expert advice to help you out with some of your biggest sexual hygiene

Why Does Your Hair Get Greasy So Fast? Tips To Control Excessive Oil

While greasy hair is unlikely to lead to anything more sinister, it’s often associated with uncleanliness. In reality, however, it can actually be caused by too much washing. Whatever your hygiene situation, this article will help you navigate greasy hair and avoid being accused of this all-too-common ick.

Bed Sheet Hygiene 101: Here’s How Often You Need To Change Your Sheets

Sexual health expert, Elisabeth, warns, “Unclean bedding is full of bacteria, dirt, dust and even fungal growths which can lead to some pretty nasty infections if not washed on a regular basis.” This article reveals just how often you should be washing your bedding.

When did you last wash your bedding?

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To Pee Or Not To Pee? Debunking The Myths Of Sexual Hygiene

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  • We worked with Elisabeth Neumann, User Research Manager at Lovehoney and Sexologist (M.A.) to confirm which personal hygiene icks, out of list of 20+ common icks, could lead to negative side effects when getting intimate with a partner. We also worked with her to confirm how to illustrate these side effects in our fruity photography.
  • On 28.06.23 we Googled ‘reddit ick list’ and scraped the comments from the first 30 which appeared. We only analysed threads that were clearly intended for participants to add their dating/partner icks to the thread. We both scraped the number of upvotes on every comment on these threads, as well as analysing all word occurrences and found the appearance count per word. We then reviewed the list and pulled out all semantic instances (ie hygiene) and removed grammatical instances (ie we) to find the most commonly mentioned words.
  • We also searched in relationship_advice community for any thread that mentioned ‘hygiene’ and removed any that did not include an age in the thread title. Of the 216 threads with ages in the title, we analysed the number of threads involving at least one person aged 18-24 (of which the result was 76%).
  • For STI data, we reviewed the Sexually transmitted infections (STIs): annual data tables on gov.uk.