Is Oral Sex Safe? Which STDs are Possible?
Most people believe that oral sex is “safe” sex and don’t even realize that it’s considered sex. Despite that misconception, having oral sex is actually risky sexual behavior that puts all participants involved in jeopardy of contracting a number of sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) and infections. Certain STDs can be contracted via oral sex just as easily as vaginal sex.
Which STDs can you get from oral sex?
A number of STDs can be contracted from oral sex but using barrier methods such as dental dams or condoms during oral sex can greatly reduce your chances of contracting an STD.
The following STDs can be contracted through oral sex:
- Oral herpes
- Genital herpes
- Genital warts (which are caused by HPV)
- Hepatitis A
Performing OR receiving unprotected oral sex puts you at risk of contracting these STDs.
What is oral sex?
Oral sex is a sexual activity in which the genitalia of one partner is stimulated by the mouth of the other partner; fellatio is mouth-to-penis contact and cunnilingus is mouth-to-vagina contact. Slang terms or sex lingo for these acts include– blowjobs, giving head, going down on, or eating out. Analingus is mouth-to-anus contact. Slang terms for analingus include rimming or tossing salad.
Though most people feel they are well-educated about safe sex and STDs, it is important to know which diseases can be transmitted through unprotected oral sex. Before you “go down on” or give a “blowjob” to your partner without protection, find out more about these STDs that you could be contracting.
Also referred to as genital warts, the Human Papillomavirus (HPV) is a common sexually transmitted infection (STI) passed through unprotected oral, vaginal, and anal sex. Some potential health problems caused by HPV are cervical cancer and Recurrent Respiratory Papillomatosis (RRP), in which tumors grow in the respiratory tract (oropharyngeal cancer). Similar to herpes, the virus is spread through intimate skin-to-skin contact, rather than bodily fluids. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), HPV is so common that nearly all sexually active people will get it at some point in their lives. Practicing safe sex by using protection can help to reduce your chances of contracting HPV, but since the warts are not always covered by the condom, transmission can still occur.
Chlamydia is easily transmitted through unprotected oral sex. Common symptoms include scratchy, dry throat and painful swallowing, which is very much like a sore throat associated with a cold. The common symptoms of genital infections include a burning sensation during urination, discharge from the penis or vagina, testicular pain, and rectal pain. Though individuals who contract chlamydia do not always experience physical symptoms, it can lead to sterility in men and infertility in women if left untreated. Chlamydia can be cured with antibiotics.
Similar to chlamydia, this bacterial disease is also easily transmitted through oral sex. Commonly known as “the clap,” gonorrhea is often unaccompanied by physical symptoms. On occasion, however, individuals who have contracted gonorrhea report pain during urination, anal itching/bleeding, and abnormal discharge. Gonorrhea is a bacterial infection that targets the urethra, cervix, rectum, throat and pelvic organs, and can potentially lead to infertility or complications during pregnancy. Oral gonorrhea symptoms can also produce a sore throat, red and white spots in the mouth and throat, yellow discharge, and trouble swallowing. Gonorrhea can be cured with antibiotics.
Syphilis is transmittable via oral sex. Syphilis comes from a bacterial infection known as Treponema pallidum. Its symptoms are often undetectable, but may include sores, lesions, skin rash, hair loss, weight loss, swollen lymph nodes, fatigue, and a low-grade fever. In long-term cases (if left untreated), syphilis can lead to nerve, brain, and heart damage and, in the worst case scenario, death. Fortunately, it can be treated quite easily when caught early on with penicillin and other antibiotics.
Hepatitis A (HAV) is a viral liver infection that is not usually transmitted sexually, but can be contracted from oro-anal sex. It can be contracted by rimming/providing analingus to an infected partner. Typically HAV is transmitted by contaminated food or water. It goes away on its own, but is preventable via immunization.
Herpes I & II
Herpes is transmitted through oral sex, vaginal sex and/or anal sex. There are two herpes strains you can contract sexually: HSV-1 (usually the culprit of oral herpes cases) and HSV-2 (usually the culprit of genital herpes cases). Symptoms include visible skin blisters and sores. Once contracted, the herpes virus stays in your system for life, but antiviral medications can reduce the severity and frequency of symptoms. Herpes is contagious and it is possible to contract the virus even when there are no visible symptoms. Those with oral herpes can give their partner a case of herpes genitally and vice versa. This means that if an individual with an active herpes infection around the mouth area (either HSV-1 or HSV-2) performs oral sex on their partner, they can transfer whichever strain of herpes they have to their partner’s genitals, causing a case of herpes in the genital area. Alternatively, if an individual has either strain of the herpes virus in the genital region, and their partner performs oral sex on them, their partner could get herpes orally caused by whichever strain their partner has genitally.
The CDC estimates that more than one million people in the United States are living with genital herpes, and one in every six Americans between the ages of 19-49 carry the infection.
How to have safe sex
Always use condoms or dental dams during oral sex to help prevent the transmission or contraction of STDs.
*These safer sex options are not always 100 percent effective in protecting against HPV or herpes since some STDs can infect areas that dental dams or condoms do not cover. The only way to truly know if you’ve been exposed is to get tested. Get tested today to learn your status.
Medically Reviewed by Dr. Joshua Hwang, MD on October 1, 2018 - Written by STDcheck Editorial Team.
STDcheck.com gives you control over your sexual health by providing fast, private and affordable STD testing. We've eliminated the embarrassment and hassle of conventional STD testing while granting access to the same FDA-approved testing used by doctors and hospitals. Get tested at one of our 4,500+ nationwide testing centers today!