Question- How important is it to use a condom for oral? Can I get herpes, HIV, or anything else? Does it make a difference if the oral is done on a girl or a guy?
This is a great question.
The short answer is YES!
It’s been hammered in our heads to use condoms for vaginal and anal sex, but oral? To most people this is a confusing area.
If you have not seen your partner’s recent HIV and STI test results, YES, you should use male condoms and female condoms or another barrier method such as plastic wrap for the vagina. STIs can be transmitted from the “giver” to the “getter” and back and forth and back and forth (you get the picture). They can be transmitted through giving oral pleasure to the penis, vagina or anal area.
But, you should know, in general, the risks of contracting the big uglies are less with oral sex, compared to vaginal and anal. There are several reasons for this, but the most interesting is research showing that our saliva actually strips down viral proteins– Wow! However, there are some viruses that love the mouth and some bacteria that thrive in the soft tissue in the throat.
Here is a short-list of the most common sexually transmitted infections that can be transmitted through oral sex:
HIV– According to the CDC, it’s hard to know the exact risk for HIV transmission through oral sex, but clearly the risk of getting HIV through oral sex is lower than vaginal or anal sex. Your risk of contracting HIV (or any other STI) is higher if there is a sore, broken skin, or the presence of blood or ejaculate. Oral sex should be avoided is one partner has bleeding gums, oral ulcers, genital sores, or another STI.
Herpes- This is one that we should all be concerned about. Herpes is extremely common, in fact between 65%-85% of adults will test positive for herpes by the time they reach age sixty. That’s right, your grandma may test positive for herpes! Oral herpes (HSV-1) is what most folks call a “cold sore”. Genital Herpes (HSV-2) is a sore found on, you guessed it, the genitals. Here’s the problem- HSV-1 and HSV-2 are not polite enough to stay on their carpet squares and will spread to other areas.
Increasingly, doctors are seeing oral herpes (HSV-1) show up on the genitals and vice versa.
Gonorrhea- Here’s another big one. Remember when I said that some STI’s like to live in your throat? Gonorrhea will camp out there, too, and unless you are tested, it can be spread very easily through oral sex. It’s a very common STI and it’s on the rise. The CDC estimates that 820,000 people in the U.S. get new gonorrhea infections each year and that less than half of these folks know they have the disease and receive treatment. To make things even more interesting, gonorrhea is emerging as a super-bug and multi-drug resistant strains have been found in several different countries including the US.
HPV- We know that HPV causes cervical cancer and is spread through vaginal sex, but new studies show a link with oral sex and throat cancer. A recent report from the American Cancer Society shows that HPV is now a more common cause of throat and other oral cancers than tobacco. Wow! Check out this awesome infographic from Mount Sinai Hospital illustrating the risks of HPV from oral sex.
Hepatitis A, B, C- Hepatitis is a chronic liver disease that can lead to cancer and even death. There are vaccines for Hepatitis A and B, but not for C. Hepatitis A is highly concentrated in feces, and can be easily transmitted through oral sex involving anilingus. Hepatitis B and C are viruses spread through blood and semen, and carry the same risk profile as HIV, so a lower risk compared to vaginal and anal sex, but still nothing to ignore.
Keep your oral pleasure sexy and keep it safe!
S. Brockman, RN, MPh.
ASK AN OBGYN is not meant to be a substitute for your doctor or health care provider. Contact your provider with any health issues you may have.