More than half of all people will contract an STD at some point in their life. In 2008, about 110 million people had an STD in the United States alone. But when it comes to spreading sexually transmitted diseases, most assume sexual intercourse is the only real way to infect partners.
Can you even get an STD from oral sex? If so, what types of illnesses are spread through oral sex?
What is Oral Sex?
Oral sex is when one partner uses his or her lips, tongue, or mouth to stimulate the other partner’s genitals or anus.
Oral sex typically falls into three categories:
- Cunnilingus: Oral contact with the vaginal opening, clitoris, or vulva
- Fellatio: Oral contact with the penis
- Anilingus (or “rimming”): Oral contact with the anus.
Oral sex is extremely common between adults aged 15-44, with over 80% reporting having oral sex at least once with a partner. At least 45% of teens between 15 and 19 years of age reported having oral sex with a partner.
Many people engage in oral sex with the belief that it’s safer than intercourse. But oral sex may not be safe as you think it is.
Can You Get an STD from Receiving Oral Sex?
What About Giving?
“Can I get an STD from a BJ?” That’s a very common question patients ask, doctors say. And you may not like the answer.
Yes, you can get a sexually transmitted infection from oral sex. In fact, there are more than 30 different types of infections that can be spread orally. And it doesn’t matter whether you’re the giver or receiver.
For men, receiving oral sex from a partner with an STI-related throat infection could lead to some uncomfortable symptoms.
Many diseases, like chlamydia and gonorrhea, do not present any symptoms, so you may not even know you have an infection. For women on the receiving end of oral sex, not knowing you have the disease could lead to scarring of the fallopian tubes if left untreated. Men can experience infertility and an enlarged prostate.
If you’re the one giving oral sex, the scenario isn’t much better. Giving oral sex to an infected partner can also lead to some very uncomfortable side effects, like sores, red spots, and white discharge in the throat. And if you happen to contract gonorrhea of the throat, the infection may take months to clear. In some cases, gonorrhea is resistant to antibiotics, which can make it very hard to treat.
What Types of STDs are Transmitted through Oral Sex?
There are several types of oral STDs:
Can you get chlamydia in your mouth? Absolutely.
And in many cases, chlamydia does not cause any symptoms. When they do, the most common chlamydia oral STD symptoms include:
- Sore throat
- Burning when urinating
Thankfully, chlamydia is easily cured with antibiotics.
Because this infection does not typically present symptoms, it’s important to get tested regularly, so you can treat oral chlamydia before it progresses to a more serious state.
Oral gonorrhea is more common than you think, and just like with chlamydia, symptoms don’t always present themselves.
Those that do have symptoms will typically experience:
- Sore throat
- Burning when urinating
As you can see, the symptoms are identical to chlamydia. And just like chlamydia, this infection can be cured with antibiotics. However, drug-resistant strains of the disease are becoming more prevalent, which makes this STD harder to treat.
Syphilis can also be contracted through oral sex, and can affect your mouth, throat, and lips.
In my cases, there are no symptoms with syphilis. People in the initial stage of the disease experience sores in the:
The second stage of the disease can cause skin rashes on the soles of the feet and palms of the hands.
The symptoms of this infection will disappear on their own eventually, but without treatment, the disease will remain in the body and can lead to organ damage or death.
The good news is that syphilis is also easily curable with antibiotics.
Herpes Simplex Virus 1 and 2
The herpes simplex virus, both 1 and 2, can affect the mouth, lips, and throat as well as other parts of the body.
Again, most people experience no symptoms. If they do, the most common symptom is sores on the:
Herpes cannot be cured, but medications are available that can help keep the infection under control by shortening or preventing outbreaks.
Human Papillomavirus (or HPV)
HPV is one of the most common STDs, and can affect the mouth and throat. Just like with other oral STDs, you may not experience any symptoms if you contract this disease.
The most common symptoms, if they do present themselves, include:
- Genital warts
- Warts in the throat or mouth
There are also certain types of HPV that can cause cancer of the throat or mouth.
Like herpes, HPV cannot be cured. However, the infection clears within two years for most people.
Human Immunodeficiency Virus (or HIV)
HIV can also be contracted through oral sex, and can affect the mouth as well as the anus, rectum, and genital area.
Many people who contract HIV experience no symptoms, while others experience flu-like symptoms. Without proper treatment, HIV can progress into AIDs.
You are at a much higher risk of contracting HIV if you perform oral sex on an infected female partner while she’s on her period.
There is no cure for HIV, but new medications can slow the progression of the infection.
Can You Get STD From Kissing?
Yes, you can. But it’s highly unlikely.
Herpes (HSV-1 to be exact) can be transmitted through kissing. But most people are exposed to the virus at a young age, and typically through a non-sexual kiss from a family member. It’s estimated that about half of the people in the U.S. carry the virus. And many people who carry the disease never have cold sores.
There is also a remote chance of contracting HIV through kissing. For this to happen – and it’s extremely rare – you would have to engage in deep kissing with an infected partner and have open sores or bleeding gums.
What Are the Chances of Getting an STD From Oral Sex?
How likely are you to contract an oral sex STD? That depends on the type of oral sex you’re engaging in and what type of protection (if any) you’re using.
Unprotected Oral Sex (Mouth on Penis)
Unprotected Oral Sex (Mouth on Vagina)
Unprotected Rimming (Mouth on Anus)
When a condom or barriers is used during oral sex, the chances of contracting an STD are slim. With that said, some types of STIs can be transmitted through simple skin-to-skin contact, which isn’t protected by a condom or a dental dam.
Taking Steps to Prevent Oral STDs
Practicing safe oral sex is the best way to avoid contracting an oral STI.
For Mouth-to-Penis Contact (Fellatio)
- Wear a latex condom that’s unlubricated
- If your partner is allergic to latex, a polyurethane condom is the best choice
For Mouth-to-Vagina Contact (Cunnilingus)
- Use a dental dam
For Mouth-to-Anus Contact (Anilingus)
- Use a dental dam
- Create your own dental dam by cutting a condom open to create a square
Dental dams create a barrier between the mouth and the vagina or anus, so the tongue never comes in contact with the body.
To avoid contracting a disease through skin-to-skin contact, make sure the dental dam or cut-open condom is large enough to cover the area surrounding the genitals.
If you’re sexually active and engaging in oral sex, it’s important to get tested regularly. Many STDs, especially oral STDs, do not cause symptoms. Without testing, you may not know that you’re infected until the disease has caused irreparable damage.