Check up : Can she get an STI from oral sex?

August 23, 2017

Shereen asks Check Up if she is fairly safe from 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 if that person, who gave her oral sex, could have also infected her. She sees no sign of sores so far.

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

• Gonorrhoea

• Syphilis

Infections less frequently passed are:

• Chlamydia

• HIV

• Hepatitis

• 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

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 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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