Oral Sex and STIs - American Sexual Health Association

Oral Sex and STIs

Can someone be infected with a sexually transmitted infection (STI) from oral sex? Yes. Many STIs, including chlamydia, gonorrhea and syphilis, can be spread through oral sex. However, the chances of giving or getting STIs during oral sex can be lowered by using a condom or dental dam.

By definition, oral sex is when someone puts his or her lips, mouth or tongue on a man’s penis, a woman’s genitals (including the clitoris, vulva, and vaginal opening), or the anus of another person. There are different terms used to describe types of oral sex:

  • Fellatio is the technical term used to describe oral contact with the penis.
  • Cunnilingus describes oral contact with the clitoris, vulva or vaginal opening.
  • Anilingus (sometimes called “rimming”) refers to oral contact with the anus.

Oral sex is common among sexually active adults. According to a national survey conducted from June 2006 through December 2008, over 80% of sexually active youth and adults ages 15-44 years reported having had oral sex at least once with a partner of the opposite sex. The same survey found that 45% or more of teenage girls and boys (ages 15-19 years) report having had oral sex with a partner of the opposite sex.

As with other types of sexual activity, oral sex carries the risk of STIs. It may be possible to get some STIs in the mouth or throat from giving oral sex to a partner with a genital or anal/rectal infection, particularly from giving fellatio. It also may be possible to get certain STIs on the penis, and possibly the vagina, anus or rectum, from receiving oral sex from a partner with a mouth or throat infection. It’s possible to have an STI in more than one area, for example in the throat and the genitals.

STIs Transmitted Through Oral Sex

Chlamydia

Site of initial infection:

  • Throat
  • Genital Area
  • Urinary Tract
  • Rectum

Symptoms: Often there are no symptoms. If there are symptoms, they might include a sore throat, abnormal discharge from the vagina, penis, or rectum, and/or a burning feeling when urinating.

Treatment: Easily cured with antibiotic medicines.

Gonorrhea

Site of initial infection:

  • Throat
  • Genital Area
  • Urinary Tract
  • Rectum

Symptoms: Often there are no symptoms. If there are symptoms, they might include a sore throat, abnormal discharge from the vagina, penis, or rectum, and/or a burning feeling when urinating.

Treatment: Can be cured with antibiotic medicines, but drug-resistant strains of gonorrhea are increasing in many parts of the world, including the US.

Syphilis

Site of initial infection:

  • Mouth
  • Lips
  • Throat
  • Genital Area
  • Anus
  • Rectum

Symptoms: Often there are no symptoms. In the first or primary stage of infection, may have a single sore or multiple sores on mouth, throat, genitals, or anus. In the second stage, may have a skin rash (often on the palms of the hands and the soles of the feet, but also on other body parts). The symptoms of syphilis will disappear with or without treatment, but without treatment the infection remains in the body and may cause organ damage.

Treatment: Curable with antibiotic medicines.

Herpes simplex virus (types 1 and 2)

Site of initial infection:

  • Lips
  • Mouth
  • Throat
  • Genital Area
  • Anus
  • Rectum
  • Buttocks

Symptoms: Often no noticeable symptoms. At times, blisters or sores are present on the mouth, lips, throat, genital area, anus, or buttocks.

Treatment: There is no cure for herpes, but medications can shorten and decrease or prevent outbreaks.

Human papilomavirus (HPV)

Site of initial infection:

  • Mouth
  • Throat
  • Genital Area
  • Anus
  • Rectum

Symptoms: Often there are no symptoms, although some types of HPV can cause genital warts—small bumps in and around the genitals and anus, or in the mouth or throat. Others types of HPV can develop into cancer of the mouth, throat, cervix, or rectum.

Treatment: There is no cure for HPV infection, but 90% of persons clear the infection within 2 years. Genital warts can be removed through different methods, including freezing. Appropriate follow-up and treatment for genital and rectal HPV infections (detected by abnormal Pap smear and/or HPV test results) is essential for cancer prevention and detection.

Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV)

Site of initial infection:

  • Mouth
  • Genital Area
  • Anus
  • Rectum

Symptoms: Often there are no initial symptoms; however, after first being infected some people experience flu-like symptoms. HIV damages the body by destroying specific blood cells that help the body fight disease. HIV infection can lead to acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS).

Treatment: There is no cure for HIV or AIDS, although anti-HIV medications can slow the progression of HIV infection and can help keep an HIV infected person healthy.

Note: Certain things have been suggested to increase a person’s chances of getting HIV during oral sex, if exposed to an infected partner, such as having poor oral health, having bleeding gums or gum disease, having sores in the mouth or on the genitals, or being exposed to the “pre-cum” or “cum” (also known as pre-ejaculate or ejaculate) of an infected partner. However, no scientific studies have been done to show whether or not these factors actually do increase the risk of getting HIV or STI from oral sex.

Preventing STIs

The chances of giving or getting STIs during oral sex can be lowered by using a condom, dental dam or other barrier method each and every time a person has oral sex:

For fellatio (mouth-to-penis contact):

  • Cover the penis with a non-lubricated latex condom.
  • Use plastic (polyurethane) condoms, if a partner is allergic to latex.

For cunnilingus (mouth-to-vagina contact) and anilingus (mouth to anus contact):

  • Use a dental dam, or
  • Cut open a condom to make a square, and put it between the mouth and the partner’s vagina or anus.

The surest way to not get a sexually transmitted infection from oral sex is to abstain from vaginal, anal, and oral sex or to be in a long-term mutually monogamous relationship with a partner who has been tested and is known to be uninfected. However, many infected persons may be unaware of their infection because STIs often have no symptoms and are unrecognized.

Sexually active individuals should get tested regularly for STIs and HIV, and talk to all partner(s) about STIs. Anyone who thinks that he/she might have an STI should stop having sex and visit a doctor or clinic to get tested. There are free and low-cost options for testing available. It is important to talk openly with a health care provider about any activities that might put a person at risk for an STI, including oral sex.

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