Lifestyle & Health : You can get STIs from oral sex
Shereen asks Lifeline if she is fairly safe from sexually transmitted infections (STIs) as long as she sticks to oral sex. She is 19 years old and has never had penetrative sex where penile insertion into her vagina has occurred. She has a close friend who recently contracted genital herpes. She is concerned that the person, who gave her oral sex, could have also infected her. She sees no sign of sores so far.
Oral sex is a form of sex where a person uses their mouth, tongue and lips to stimulate a partner's genitals. Talk of oral sex used to be almost unmentionable, but research now shows that in the USA, 71 per cent of young adults ages 16-24, and 80 per cent of people aged 25-34 reported having oral sex during the past year. It is very likely that concerning the younger age groups in Jamaica, the statistics do not differ much, and the practice of oral sex within that age group is accepted by most as normal.
Oral sex, when practised, has its positive points:
- It can help women reach climax when this doesn't occur through regular sexual activity
- It can help men who have difficulties with getting an erection (erectile dysfunction)
- It is almost impossible to get someone pregnant
However, it is quite understandable to be concerned if this form of sexual play can lead to a sexual infection. The answer is, of course, yes, STIs can be caught from oral sex, although some infections are more easily spread by this route than others. Yet, in terms of infectivity, oral sex is usually safer than unprotected penetrative sex (vaginal or anal sex without a condom). Another important fact is that receiving oral sex is safer than giving oral sex as the receiver is less likely to be exposed to genital fluids. Infections can be passed on through oral sex even when there are no obvious signs of the person receiving it having an infection.
The most commonly passed infections are:
- Herpes simplex
Infections less frequently passed are:
- Genital warts
- Pubic Lice
HIV can also be transmitted by oral sex, but the risk is much lower than with vaginal or anal sex. It is rare for genital warts to be contracted through oral sex, but pubic lice can be passed from genital hair and facial hair such as a beard.
Infected body fluids from the genitals can come into contact with:
- Sores, cuts or inflamed cells on the mouth and lips
- The eye membranes
- The cells lining the throat
This contact allows the STI germs to enter the bloodstream so syphilis, gonorrhoea, HIV, chlamydia, hepatitis and herpes simplex can be transmitted to a partner in this manner. Pre-ejaculatory fluid (pre-cum) can also carry infection which can be transmitted, even if the male does not actually ejaculate into their partner's mouth. When a person receives oral sex, they can get an STI if their partner has an STI which gives them mouth sores or blisters or a sore throat or if blood from this partner's mouth gets into the recipient's body. Gums sometimes bleed after they are brushed or flossed, so these activities should be avoided immediately before or after oral sex. And, as with all STI's, the more partners involved, the greater the risk of catching an STI.
To reduce the risk of contracting an STI through oral sex, the male should use a condom, while a dental dam can be used to cover the female's genitals during oral sex. A dental dam is a small, thin, soft, square of latex which acts as a barrier to prevent STI transmission.
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