Oral Sex is Safe Sex….Isn’t it?

Oral sex is pretty damn common. More than 85% of adults aged 18-44 have had oral sex at least once. While it’s a good alternative to vaginal or anal penetration, it’s come to my attention that many believe oral sex is risk-free. Grant it, no one has ever gotten pregnant, or impregnated someone, through oral stimulation. However, many have caught a sexually transmitted infection (STI) by licking the goods. Whenever bodily fluids–i.e. semen, pre-cum, vaginal fluids, and blood– are involved, there is risk for infection.

Although oral sex is much safer than unprotected vaginal or anal sex, there are some STIs that are easily transmitted to the lips, mouth, and throat. They are:

Chlamydia 

Gonorrhea

Syphilis

Herpes

HPV

Hepatitis B

Also, the pleasers who love to give anal licks should be aware of other nasty bugs that can hang around the butt–i.e. Hepatitis A, Shigella, E. coli. HIV can also be an issue if there are cuts or open sores in or around the mouth.

Despite these risks, we know that condoms aren’t all that popular during oral sex. And I get it, many don’t like the feeling, taste, or look of it. Rubbers also don’t completely eliminate the risk of STIs; there are a few such as herpes and HPV that are passed from skin to skin contact. However, as a sex educator, I encourage the use of condoms or a dental dam–a sheet of latex that is placed over the anus or vagina–when engaging in oral sex in order to reduce the risk of catching or passing along an STI.

If condoms are not possible or desirable, it’s best to limit your sexual partners, avoid getting bodily fluids in your mouth, and get tested regularly. And when getting tested, make sure to ask your healthcare provider to do a throat swab in addition to a blood draw and urine sample. Urine-only chlamydia and gonorrhea testing can miss infections that reside in the throat.

Whatever you choose to do, make sure that you and your partner(s) are comfortable with the level of risk involved.