Many people are under the impression that oral sex is “safe” sex. Clearly, pregnancy is not a risk with oral sex, but what about sexually transmitted diseases (STDs)? Can you get an STD from oral sex? The short answer is yes, you definitely can. There are a number of STDs that can be spread through oral sex, and you can be at risk whether you are giving oral sex or receiving it.
That means that, like any sexual activity, taking precautions during oral sex to reduce your risk of becoming infected with an STD is important. And, since no method of protection is foolproof, get regular STD screening tests to protect your sexual health.
Many STDs can be transmitted via oral sex. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), it is possible to get certain STDs in the mouth or throat by giving oral sex to a partner who has an STD infection in the genitals or anus — giving oral sex to a partner with an infected penis is particularly risky. You can also get infected by receiving oral sex from a partner with an STD, as bacteria or viruses from a partner with a mouth or throat infection is transmitted to your penis, vagina or anus.
Chlamydia is a very common bacterial infection that spreads via sexual contact and can be easily transmitted through unprotected oral sex. People who get chlamydia infections in the mouth or throat may have symptoms like a dry, scratchy, sore throat and/or painful swallowing. Infection in the genital and/or anal areas may result in symptoms that include burning or pain during urination, discharge from the vagina, penis or rectum, and/or pain and swelling in the testicles or rectum.
People who have an active chlamydia infection may not show symptoms. According to the CDC, most who have infections in the mouth or throat and many who have genital or anal infections will have no symptoms at all. Chlamydia is treated with antibiotics to clear it from the body. Getting treatment promptly is important to avoid spreading the disease and preventing the problems it can cause if it is left untreated. These include infertility in both men and women, increased risk of contracting HIV other STDs.
Gonorrhea is another STD caused by a bacteria, and it is also fairly easily transmitted from one person to another during oral sex. Infections commonly affect the vagina, penis, rectum, urinary tract, mouth and throat. Oral infections can cause symptoms, like sore throat, difficulty swallowing and red or white spots and/or yellowish discharge in the mouth or throat. Symptoms of an infection in the genitals, urinary tract or rectum may include burning or pain with urination, yellowish and/or bloody discharge from the penis, vagina or rectum, and pain and/or swelling in the testicles or rectum.
While symptoms are present in some cases, in most mouth/throat infections, there are none. While symptoms are more common in genital, anal, and rectal infections than they are in oral ones, many infected people have no signs of gonorrhea and may spread the disease to partners unknowingly.
Gonorrhea can be cured with antibiotics, clearing the infection from the body. Left untreated, this STD can cause a number of serious health issues, including infertility and increased risk of HIV and other STDs in both men and women. Over time, the infection can spread throughout the body, causing skin sores, joint pain and life-threatening heart-related complications.
Bacteria is also the cause of syphilis. It can be transmitted by having oral sex with an infected partner. It can infect the lips, mouth, throat, genitals and rectal area. Symptoms of infection may include one or more painless sores in the infected area, a rash that appears on the body, and/or the palms of the hands or soles of the feet, and/or flu-like symptoms.
Very often, people who have syphilis infections have no symptoms, especially in the early stages of the disease. Others may have very mild symptoms that go unnoticed or are mistaken for a common cold or flu.
Syphilis can be cured through treatment with antibiotics. Early treatment is important to avoiding serious complications that can be caused by the disease over time, including increased risk of HIV infection, damage to vital organs, such as the brain and heart.
HIV is a viral STD that can be transmitted orally, especially when open mouth sores or bleeding from the gums is present. This is a serious disease because if it is not treated, it can turn into AIDs — a deadly immunodeficiency disease. People who have HIV often have no symptoms for a very long time so it is very important to take precautions to avoid getting the disease. Get tested regularly if you are at risk. There is no cure for HIV, but the disease can be managed with treatment.
Herpes (HSV-1 and HSV-2)
This STD is a viral one, caused by one of two viruses, HSV-1 or HSV-2, which can be easily be spread through oral sex. Once a person has been infected with herpes, the virus remains in the body for life, typically causing periodic flare-ups of symptoms. When these symptoms are present, the disease typically presents as painful or itchy skin sores or blisters around or inside of the mouth and/or throat, or on and around the genital or anal regions. Newly infected people may also experience headaches or fever before or during their first outbreak.
Herpes is most contagious when sores are present. However, it is important to note that it can also be transmitted between outbreaks, when no sores are visible on the skin. Herpes cannot be cured, but it can be treated. Antiviral medications can be used to shorten or suppress outbreaks and reduce the risk of transmitting the virus to others.
Another bacterial STD that can be transmitted by oral sex is shigella which causes digestive problems. A common viral STD that can be transmitted via oral sex is human papillomavirus (HPV). It often shows up as warts in the genital and or anal areas, or in the mouth and throat. Hepatitis is also a virus that can spread via oral sex.
How to Protect Yourself
If you are having oral sex, using barrier methods — condoms and dental dams — to reduce your risk of contracting an STD is important. However, while these options are much safer than unprotected sex, they are not 100 percent effective at preventing STD transmission. For that reason, anyone who is sexually active, no matter the type of activity they are engaging in, should be getting screened for STDs regularly. Lab tests for common STDs should be done once a year for most people — or anytime you think you may have been exposed to an STD through unprotected sex or show symptoms that concern you.