Oral sex is a wonderful way to share in pleasure and intimacy, but like all other types of sexual contact, there are some health risks we should always keep in mind.
"Although most people don't view oral sex as very risky, sexually transmitted infections (STIs) such as HIV, herpes, chlamydia, syphilis, and gonorrhea can still be spread through unprotected oral sex," says Dr. Nita Landry OB/GYN and cohost of The Doctors. "It may be possible to get an STI in the mouth or throat in addition to having the STI travel through the body, and it may be possible to contract an STI even if the infected partner shows no symptoms. Poor oral health, like sores in the mouth, bleeding gums, or tooth decay, can increase chances of contracting an STI through oral sex," says Dr. Nita.
But that's not all: Human papillomavirus (HPV) can also be contracted through oral sex, which can develop into cancer. "Research shows some forms of throat cancer such as oropharyngeal (middle of the throat) and tonsil cancer are caused by a certain type of HPV," says Dr. Nita. So, what should we keep in mind before getting between the sheets? A lot, actually.
Safer (Oral) Sex
"The only way to guarantee that you're protected against STIs during oral sex is to only engage with a mutually monogamous partner after you've both been tested and are not infected," says Antonia Hall, MA, a psychologist, relationship expert, and author of The Ultimate Guide to a Multi-Orgasmic Life.
Whether you know them as fever blisters, herpes, or cold sores, these are easily spread when you get or give oral sex. "If one or both of you have active cold sores (herpes simplex 1), the virus can be transferred from mouth to genitals," says Hall.
People don't often consider oral sex to have as many risks attached as penetrative sex, but there are plenty. "It is also possible to get some STIs in the mouth and throat from an infected genital or anal region, especially from giving fellatio," says Hall. "Oral sex brings with it risks for chlamydia, gonorrhea, syphilis, herpes simplex 1 and 2, human papillomavirus (HPV), and human immunodeficiency virus (HIV)," says Hall. You can decrease risks by covering genitals prior to engaging in oral sex. "Wrap the penis in a non-lubricated condom. Cover the female genitalia with a dental dam or a cut condom," says Hall.
It's not just STIs that can be transmitted, either. "Untreated throat infections can then be spread to other areas or partners," says Hall.