What is oral sex?
Oral sex involves giving or receiving oral stimulation (i.e. sucking or licking) to the genitalia. Fellatio (also known as a ‘blow job’) is the term used to describe oral sex given to someone with a penis. Cunnilingus is the term which describes oral sex given to someone with a vagina.
Is oral sex common practice?
Many studies have shown that oral sex is practiced by men and women of all ages, both gay and straight. It is a very common practice and may be performed on its own, or before or after sexual intercourse.
Is oral sex safe?
A number of studies have demonstrated that oral sex is not necessarily safe sex. Both giving and receiving oral sex can lead to the transmission of sexually transmitted infections (also known as STIs or STDs).
Which STDs are transmitted via oral sex?
The most common STD transmitted via oral sex is herpes. There are two main types of herpes simplex virus (HSV): HSV type 1 and HSV type 2. HSV type 1 usually causes cold sores around the mouth, while HSV type 2 generally causes genital herpes sores. However, oral sex can sometimes cause HSV type 1 around the mouth to be transmitted to the genital area causing genital sores in the other person. This process can also work in reverse, with HSV-2 transmitted from the genitals to the mouth of the other person during oral sex, though this is rare.
The human papillomavirus that causes genital warts can very occasionally be transmitted through oral sex, causing warts to appear around or inside the mouth in anyone who has given oral sex to an infected person.
- Gonorrhea has been shown to infect the throat of some people who have given oral sex to an infected person. This infection can then be passed on from the throat to the genitals of any future partners. The body will almost always naturally clear the throat of the bacteria that cause gonorrhea within three months, although infections in the genital tract will usually require antibiotics to cure. Chlamydia can also infect the throat in a similar way, although this is less common. Both infections may result in a sore throat, although many people will remain asymptomatic and unaware they are infected.
- Syphilis may be passed on during oral sex if a person’s mouth comes into contact with an open sore or a skin rash caused by the infection.
- Gastrointestonal infections and parasites may be passed on during oral contact with the anus.
- The Hepatitis A virus is also contained in human faeces, and may be passed on during anal-oral sex.
- Hepatitis B is contained in sexual fluids and blood and may be transmitted during oral sex in a similar way to HIV (see below).
- Hepatitis C is generally only contained in blood, and will only be transmitted if there is blood present during oral sex.
Can HIV be transmitted during oral sex?
HIV can pose a small risk for both the active (person giving the oral stimulation) and receptive (person receiving oral stimulation) partner.
Transmission from an HIV positive receptive partner to an HIV negative active partner may occur when the active partner gets sexual fluid (semen or vaginal fluid) or blood (from menstruation) or a wound somewhere in the genital or anal region) into a cut, sore, ulcer or area of inflammation somewhere in their mouth or throat. The linings of the mouth and throat are very resistant to viral infections such as HIV, so infection is unlikely if they are healthy.
Transmission from an HIV positive active partner to an HIV negative receptive partner is generally believed to be less common. This is because HIV is normally only present in saliva in very low levels that are not sufficient to cause infection. The only risk in this scenario would be from bleeding wounds or gums in the HIV positive person’s mouth or on their lips, which may transfer blood onto the mucous membranes of the other person’s genitals or anus, or into any cuts or sores they may have. Hepatitis C can also be transmitted this way.
How do I protect myself and my partner during oral sex?
The already low risk of becoming infected with HIV from oral sex can be reduced still further by using condoms. Flavoured condoms are available for those who don’t like the taste of latex or spermicide. For cunnilingus or analingus, plastic food wrap, a condom cut open, or a dental dam (a thin square of latex) can serve as a physical barrier to prevent transmission of HIV and many other STDs.
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