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Can you get an STD from oral sex?

By Kathleen Morrison & Lorals
February 29, 2024

We're teaming up with Lorals to bring you safer sex! Use code MYLORALS for 15% off Wisp treatment & prevention and code WISP for 15% off at Lorals — sitewide, for first time users.

Sexually transmitted infections are a common part of engaging in any kind of sexual activity. Many of us learn we can reduce our risk and protect ourselves by using condoms during vaginal and anal sex, but what about during oral sex? We teamed up with our friends at Lorals to get you the facts!

In one survey by the Guttmacher Institute, 83% of men and 78% of women reported never having used a condom during fellatio (oral sex performed on a penis). Similarly, dental dams are even lesser known and only 10-15% of women have reported ever using them during oral sex—which leaves many of us wondering, “Can you get an STI from oral sex?”

Can STDs spread during oral sex?

Remember that Guttmacher survey from earlier? Out of 599 respondents, 26% of them didn’t know that STDs can be transmitted via oral sex. In fact, there are a number of infections that can be transmitted during oral sex, and they can be passed back and forth between the genitals or anus and the mouth. A person with an oral STI can often pass it to someone’s genitals, and vice versa. It’s also possible to have an oral STI and a genital STI at the same time. The mouth, genitals, and rectum are all lined with mucous membranes—soft, moist tissue that is often more vulnerable to infection than the skin on other parts of your body. Andrea Sleeth, Women’s Health Nurse Practitioner, explains, “Due to the permeability of the vaginal mucosa, women and individuals with vaginas are more susceptible to STIs compared to penile transmission, where infectious agents encounter fewer barriers for entry.” This is one reason that women are often more vulnerable to STIs than men—vaginas have a higher exposed surface area of mucous membranes compared to penises, which provides more opportunity for viruses and bacteria to transmit.

Which STDs can spread from oral sex?

The following infections can be transmitted via oral sex:

  • Chlamydia
  • Gonorrhea
  • Ureaplasma
  • Mycoplasma
  • Syphilis
  • Herpes
  • HPV
  • HIV (the risk is believed to be low, and lower than the risks from vaginal or anal sex)
  • Trichomoniasis (few reported cases of transmission via oral sex)

It’s important to remember that although STIs from oral sex are common, their risk level varies and there are steps you can take to protect yourself and your partners during oral sex!

A note about herpes

Although many people think of HSV-1 as exclusively an oral infection (cold sores) and HSV-2 as exclusively genital, it’s entirely possible to have an oral HSV-2 infection or a genital HSV-1 infection. In fact, about 85% of new genital herpes infections occur from oral sex. Part of the reason for that may be because fewer children are exposed to HSV-1 due to new counseling practices between doctors and new parents—it’s more likely now that a person’s first encounter with HSV-1 will occur during oral sex, rather than during childhood from kissing a relative, for example. Both HSV-1 and HSV-2 continue to be extremely common and can be treated with prescription antivirals.

Is oral sex safer than vaginal or anal sex?

It’s difficult to compare the relative safety of oral sex to other types of sex for two main reasons:

  • Most people who have oral sex also have vaginal or anal sex.
  • Few studies look at the risks of getting STDs, other than HIV, from giving oral sex on the vagina or anus, compared to the penis.

There is always a certain level of STI risk when engaging in sexual activity with others. The best way to manage your own personal sexual risk is to educate yourself on different STIs and decide what activities you’re comfortable with based on the level of risk you’re comfortable with. The pleasure you get out of certain activities should be balanced against your comfort level with the health risks.

Can you get throat cancer from oral sex?

Most of us know that HPV, the virus that can cause genital warts, can sometimes lead to cervical cancer. The best way to protect yourself from cervical cancer is to get regular pap tests so your doctor can catch the development of precancerous or cancerous cells early and begin the appropriate treatment for the best outcome. It’s possible to get HPV in your mouth and throat—about 10% of men and 4% of women have oral HPV, which can develop into cancer (called oropharyngeal cancer). It’s estimated that HPV causes 70% of oropharyngeal cancers in the United States.

The most effective way to prevent transmission of HPV is to get the HPV vaccine (which reduces your risk of certain strains of the virus) and to use barrier methods like condoms, dental dams, or Lorals! Let’s get into our top oral tips for STI prevention.

What you can do to prevent STI transmission during oral sex

The first step to protecting your sexual health is always going to be reading reliable sources (like the Wisp blog!) and getting educated about the STIs that are out there! Remember, STIs are a part of dating, love, intimacy, and relationships. There are ways to reduce your risk, but if you end up getting an STI, it’s important not to beat yourself up. All STIs can be managed, and it’s important that you seek the right care to protect your health moving forward. Here are a few ways you can get started reducing your STI risk during oral sex!

STI Screening

It’s important to get tested for STIs regularly, even if you don’t have any symptoms. The most common STI symptom is no symptoms at all! Getting tested between partners, or every 3-6 months while you’re sexually active, can be a good way to protect your own health and that of your partners.

Lorals

Dental dams are sheets of thin latex that can go over the vagina or anus during oral sex to prevent the transmission of STIs. While they can be very effective, they can be difficult to find and must be held in place—not always the sexiest when you’re trying to get it on! Lorals are FDA-cleared, ultra-thin, and fashionable latex undies that stay in place and protect against bodily fluids and STIs/STDs. They are designed for wearable protection and ultimate sensation during sexual activity.

Condoms

Covering the penis with a condom when receiving oral sex is a highly effective way to prevent most STI transmission. Much like Lorals and dental dams, condoms provide a physical barrier against bodily fluids and skin-to-skin contact that can lead to STI transmission. Flavored condoms are designed for use during oral sex and many other brands advertise condoms without that characteristic rubber or latex flavor and odor. Experiment a bit to find what works for you!

Abstinence or Monogamy

You may find that you don’t want to participate in oral sex—that’s ok too! Some people dislike using barriers with oral sex, in which case you can always abstain and participate in other sexual activities. You may also choose to be monogamous with your partner and avoid the use of condoms or dental dams altogether (after getting tested, of course 😉).

If you find yourself dealing with an STI, you can get treatment easily from home with Wisp. Then, continue protecting your health with the sexy ‘n safe undies from Lorals!

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