Sex and the Single Celiac

by | Jun 5, 2011 | Uncategorized | 15 comments

Future boyfriends: take note. When we kiss your kisses must be gluten-free. As a newly diagnosed celiac, I am entering into dating terrain that few can imagine. And I am just making sense of it in writing this post.

Celiac is an autoimmune condition triggered by even the most minute amount of gluten. Gluten is a protein found in barley, rye, (most) oats, and wheat. Think bread, and think of a thousand other products. I can’t eat a bread crumb (or a tiny amount of bread, beer, pizza, soy sauce, fake crab, gluten-containing ice cream). Gluten is in an amazing array of products, and the possibility of cross-contamination makes many products unsafe.

Navigating life as a celiac is complicated, especially in the United States where the FDA is three years late issuing even minimal guidelines to manufacturers on safe limits for “gluten-free” products. I’ve blogged about this issue on the Huffington Post. This issue is even trickier when it comes to dating. Guess what? You can get contaminated from kissing someone who has eaten gluten (and that scenario would be quite common on a date, all it takes is a swill of beer!).

Normally we save awkward conversations about “safe sex” to later in the relationship. But for a celiac it’s critical to talk about “safe kissing.”

Most celiacs posting in forums are married or already have committed partners. So they have only one person to educate. But it’s an entirely different situation if you are meeting someone new. I’ve had one date so far where I didn’t spend half the date talking about celiac. The guy went in for a kiss and I had to brush him aside telling him we would have to wait until we had talked about celiac. He was clearly confused. Later I sent some links.

I’ve googled extensively to find out whether celiacs get sick from kissing someone who has consumed gluten, and although research hasn’t been done on the effects of saliva on gluten, the consensus from the field in forums is yes. Kissing is not something I am going to give up, but getting sick is also not OK; for me, it means being a zombie for a week and over time dramatically increasing risks of getting cancer, osteoporosis, and other autoimmune disease.

Here are the most common tips:
*ask your date to brush his or her teeth before kissing you
*ask your date to not consume anything containing gluten for a few hours before kissing
*ask your date to rinse with water before going in for a smooch
*if you’re dating a woman, ask her to wear gluten-free lipstick
*if you’re dating a man, ask him to brush gluten crumbs from his moustache!

Spontaneous, no? Sweet and romantic? Yes. Being celiac and defining your needs means your date has to value you to kiss you.

Here’s looking forward to some passionate gluten-free kisses. Step one in this video is also to brush and floss. And hey, it’s never a bad idea to brush and floss.


  1. Rubberband Girl

    This is very interesting, as just this weekend I was at a conference in SF and something strange happened – I asked a woman at the breakfast table to pass me a basket of muffins. She got this horrified look on her face, saying that she was gluten-free and couldn’t touch the stuff. I wasn’t asking her to grab them all with her hands, just the wire part of the basket, and it totally put me off.

    I understand a little better now, but perhaps she could have made it more clear. Instead I interpreted it as an irrational paranoia.

    And it did seem a little rude.

    On another note, I got really sick from mono last year and for the time being have to have a sort of awkward talk with potential kissing partners. At 31! In most cases it isn’t threatening, though, and hasn’t scared anyone off (or made them sick) yet. 🙂

  2. Sasha Cagen

    Oh, this is such a topic! I understand why you would find her behavior odd and I can also understand why she would prefer not to put her hands all over muffins. You can’t absorb gluten through the skin; however, I’m someone who eats with my hands and brush my hands on my face and I prefer not to have crumbs on me because the consequences are not fun. For example, once I was at a milonga dancing tango; a guy asked me to dance and he was wiping crumbs off his hand from the snack table. I asked him to wash his hands before we danced. He was fine with it. 😉 This is all new for me so I am calibrating my limits every month. . . and the thing is that ther eis such low awareness about celiac in the US as compared to Europe and many other countries that we come off as weird, when in other places people know more about what we are dealing with . . .

  3. Sasha Cagen

    My friend Laura just shared this link with me:

    A wonderful story from someone who has been living with celiac for much longer than me. As hard as it is to navigate this terrain it’s also a chance to learn how to communicate clearly and directly about what we need and that helps us to develop as individuals and to create better relationships and closeness. Thanks Laura.

  4. Jim

    To Sasha – does this make being alone (quirky) more comfortable?

    I think if it was me, it would. Socially it would make it easier to explain myself. I would boast: “I’m single, of course. Who wants to deal with celia?”

    I’m potentially going to have (not for cosmetic reasons) to wear braces for about six months. I’m looking forward to it as a kind of validation. I can say, of course I’m single, I have braces on my teeth. Who would date me?”

    But I’m just like that.


  5. Sasha Cagen

    Hi Jim! No I don’t want to think of celiac as a reason to stay single or that I need to justify being single to anyone in a social context. Although I have read the story of “gluten-free girl” who has a popular blog. She decided to stop dating for a year after her diagnosis to get herself and her life healed in and in order before engaging with a man. And she met her husband exactly a year after she was diagnosed; they have quite the sweet story of gluten-free bliss together. He is a chef who changed his whole way of cooking after they met.

    At this point I think being single has become socially acceptable in the Bay Area so in a broad sense I don’t think it’s necessary to justify.

    My adult friends who had braces continued to date (I think!). So you may not be off the hook on that one, unless you just want to enjoy being totally single right now, which is of course a more than valid option!

  6. Rabbit

    I have Celiac Disease and this whole issue isn’t such a big deal, but I’m not so young anymore either. If your date is a good one, you’ll go out to dinner. You’ll explain it then, and say, to their inevitable, ‘No bread??? or No bear???? This:

    “No, nor pasta, cookies or even regular pizzas! There are some lipsticks I can’t use, and I can’t even kiss someone with crumbs in their mouth!”

    Then if they freak out, which they will – tell them it’s no big deal. All they have to do is rinse their mouths well and use their napkin a lot (or their sleeve). I get sick instantly when I ingest wheat. I’ve never gotten sick from a kiss.. Good news, right? 🙂 Kiss away!

  7. Sasha Cagen

    Thanks Rabbit! This is exactly the kind of advice I was hoping to get from more experienced celiac kissers. : I really appreciate it. Any other tips out there?

  8. LoboSolo

    I guess that I won’t be making pizzas for you!

  9. Stephanie

    Unrestrained Cheerio eaters are also somewhat dangerous… I’ve had become more obsessive about washing my hands before eating. it’s absurdly easy to bread crumb yourself into illness in this world as your plain fish arrive coated in flour…

    In the continued theme of unasked-for advice, don’t let non-gluten free people make you much in the way of food if they bake often with flour. I once yielded to the claim that “my” muffins had been made separately and would be safe, despite the fact that the provider was a regular baker. They weren’t.

    Back on topic: mouthwash and a clean face are handy at home but not so practical in a first-date sort of situation. “Here, daahlling, let me wipe you down with a baby wipe before we smooch and have a quick swish of this too.”

  10. Rachel

    I’m only 17, but I’ve had a boyfriend for a year, Coeliac for two years. I’ve never noticed if I’ve been sick from kissing. He was worried about it at one point but I assured him that as long as he hadn’t just eaten a sandwich, I’d be fine. Before I was diagnosed, my symptoms were fairly minor though, just stomach cramps, not vomiting or anything so I guess I’m quite lucky. I think it takes common sense, like not kissing if he’s just eaten something gluteny but it’s also different for everyone because we have different symptoms.

  11. Cecile

    I’ve had Celiac disease and have been gluten free for 5 years. AND I have braces (the old fashioned metal Ugly Betty kind). I’ve done lots of dating and kissing has never been a problem. Even if they take a drink of water that will be enough to rinse their mouth clean. It’s important to be careful and not take risks and it’s also important to LIVE your life. Otherwise it can be maddening! I am a nurse and I give talks about going gluten free in Canada. I understand the paranoia (been there myself!). Try to continue to have fun anyway.

  12. GMD

    Lesbian and gluten intolerant here. I find it hard to date because literally MOST lesbians in my area are militant vegetarians (I am in a very left wing and hipster/artiste kind of region) who won’t date anyone who doesn’t share their eating habits. Seriously. If I were vegetarian, there wouldn’t be much I could eat; most meat replacement type of foods are decidedly *not* safe.

  13. lonley man

    i kissed a celiac with a crust in me mouth, do her rip

  14. Alyssa

    My boyfriend and I have been dating for a month and I am constantly trying to learn more about it. When I know we are going to see each other I will make sure I get the chance to brush my teeth beforehand or just eat later. However, last night was hey I’m close by do you want to meet up for a bit situation. I had eaten pasta 4.5 hours beforehand. I know he is really sensitive and I didn’t want to chance anything so we he tried to kiss me I turned away and said he couldn’t. I have read other sites that say it is fine and others like this one that says I can’t kiss him. So I just want to definitely want to make sure if that I make a habit of rinsing out my mouth (if I don’t have access to a toothbrush) after I eat in case of spur of the moment seeing each other he will be ok. I’ve even started looking at whatever food I buy for us for if it has gluten and have him check as well. He is an amazing guy and I want to do my best to keep him healthy and for the relationship to flourish. =)

  15. vera

    I’ve been a diagnosed Celiac for 8 months now, and kissing is not an issue, neither is touching bread or smelling it. If you plan to full on make out you should both brush your teeth and if you touch gluten you should wash your hands and anything it touched. Also ask chefs at restaurants to wash their hands and change their gloves. Be careful and aware about it but don’t get super paranoid, you will come off like a total nut. I got cross contaminated last night, and yes it hurt, and it definitely put a damper on the evenings plans for romance. You should be as careful as you can, but don’t be super obvious about it, and don’t worry about passing the bread basket. Just don’t handle the bread directly


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Hi! I’m Sasha

Executive and Life Coach on a mission to help women connect with their bodies to pursue their truest desires in the bedroom and the world.

Author of Quirkyalone: A Manifesto for Uncompromising Romantics (HarperCollins) + To-Do List: From Buying Milk to Finding a Soul Mate, What Our Lists Reveal About Us (Simon & Schuster).

At work on a memoir called Wet, about adventures in healing through sensuality.

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