Many people are under the assumption that oral sex is a safe way to be intimate while avoiding the risk of a sexually transmitted disease (STD). However, this is not the case. While you are less likely to become infected by an STD through oral sex than you would with sexual or anal intercourse, there is still a possibility that you can become afflicted from numerous diseases like HIV/AIDS, gonorrhea, herpes, syphilis and chlamydia.
What Is Oral Sex?
Oral sex is a category of sexual acts that are performed with the mouth around the penis, vagina or anus. The most common acts of oral sex that are performed between sexual partners are fellatio (mouth to penis) and cunnilingus (mouth to vagina). Oral sex is a personal choice and is a common sexual practice. While oral sex can be performed to avoid unwanted pregnancy, it does not prevent the transmission of an STD.
Oral Sex And STDs
There are various STDs that can be passed through oral sex. These STDs include:
- Herpes: Herpes can be transmitted through oral sex from contact with a sore in the mouth. If the person who is performing oral sex has a cold sore in his or her mouth, contact with the genitalia can lead to the transmission of herpes. This also works inversely, if the person receiving oral sex has a genital sore.
- HPV: The human papillomavirus, or genital warts, can be transmitted through oral sex from skin-to-skin contact from the mouth and genitalia or anus.
- Gonorrhea: Gonorrhea can be passed from bacteria found in bodily fluids. However, a gonorrhea infection does not necessarily have to be passed through bodily fluids, like semen. Touching an infected sex organ can result in infection. Since the bacteria that causes gonorrhea grows in warm, moist areas, people need to keep in mind that the cervix, uterus and urethra aren't the only places that fit this description; the throat and mouth is a suitable place for this bacterium to form as well.
- HIV/AIDS: Although the risk of infection is lower than anal or sexual intercourse, oral intercourse still poses some risk for transmitting HIV.
HIV From Oral Sex
A person performing oral sex is typically the one at risk for becoming infected by HIV, since the person receiving oral sex is manly exposed to saliva, which contains extremely low concentrations of HIV.
There are a number of factors that can lead to the transmission of HIV through oral sex. These factors include:
- Performing oral sex during a woman's menstrual period.
- Transmission of semen to the mouth during fellatio.
- HIV can pass through the tip of the penis or through an open wound on the penis.
- Oral ulcers, also known as canker sores.
- Bleeding gums can allow the transference of fluids.
- Genital sores, similar to the risk the pose for herpes through oral sex.
- Recent dental work.
- Any other open cuts, wounds or abrasions in or around the mouth.
Reducing The Risks of STDs Through Oral Sex
Much like regular intercourse, the only surefire way to prevent an STD infection from oral sex is through abstinence. However, those who wish to be sexual intimate with their partner through the practice of oral sex can follow these guidelines that fall under safe sex practices:
- Using a condom during fellatio.
- Using a dental dam, which is a sheet of latex, during cunnilingus.
- Plastic food wrap can possibly substitute a condom or dental dam, though latex is preferred for preventing skin-to-skin contact and the transference of bodily fluids.
- Dental dams and food wrap can also be used for oral to anal stimulation.
- Avoid the use of food products with condoms or dental dams as there is a possibility they may break the latex.
- Avoid oral sex if you your mouth is in poor health. Bleeding gums, canker sores and any open wounds or abrasions in or around the mouth can expose you to STDs.
- A cut condom can be substituted for a dental dam and can be used in place of a dental dam.
Factors To Keep In Mind
- A protective barrier used during oral sex will only prevent infection from the covered areas. If a portion of the genitalia is not covered, there is still a risk for exposure to an STD.
- Further study is necessary to prove the effectiveness of plastic wrap for preventing exposure to STDs during oral sex. A latex product like condoms or a dental dam are the most suitable choices.
- STDs can still pass even if a man does not ejaculate. Pre-ejaculate fluid can contain organisms like gonorrhea or chlamydia.