Taking the right steps towards having a safe sex life is the key to a happy sex life! For the most part, the recommendations are somewhat straightforward; use protection, openly speak to your partner about your sexual history, and regularly check in on your sexual health with testing.
Still, there is one recurring question about safe sex that seems to leave people with mixed opinions; can you really get STDs from oral sex? And the answer is yes, it’s possible. In fact, many infections and STDs can be spread through oral sex, the most common include:
How can STDs spread during oral sex?
The only way to truly avoid contracting STDs is by abstaining from oral, vaginal, or anal sex. If you are sexually active, however, it’s important to know that sexually transmitted infections can be spread through nearly any sexual activity; this includes both giving and receiving oral sex. Once exposed to an infected partner through oral sex, it’s possible to get an STD in the mouth, throat, genitals, or rectum.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the risk of contracting an STD through oral sex depends on a number of factors, including the type of infection and the type of oral activity .
What STDs can you contract through oral sex?
Chlamydia is the most common bacterial sexually transmitted infection across the United States. It can occur in both men and women in all age groups and while chlamydia can be treated and cured, if left untreated, it can cause long-term complications. As well as spreading through vaginal or anal sex, it can be spread through oral sex, causing chlamydia in the throat, genitals, urinary tract, or rectum.
Although signs and symptoms are typically mild, if they do occur, they may include:
- Sore throat
- Discharge from the vagina or penis
- Rectal pain or discharge
You can test for chlamydia from home with LetsGetChecked’s range of at-home sexual health tests.
See also: Does Chlamydia Cause Long-Term Damage?
Gonorrhea is the second most commonly reported bacterial sexually transmitted infection in the U.S and according to the CDC, more than half of cases occur in those aged 15-24 . Once diagnosed, the infection can be treated with the right treatment. It can be spread by having vaginal, anal, or oral sex with someone who has gonorrhea, this can cause infection in the genitals, rectum, and throat.
Many people with gonorrhea can be asymptomatic, when symptoms are present, they can include:
- Painful urination
- Unusual discharge from the vagina or penis
- Abdominal or pelvic pain
There are two types of herpes simplex virus; herpes simplex virus type 1 (HSV-1) and herpes simplex virus type 2 (HSV-2). While HSV-1 typically causes oral herpes, perhaps better known as the dreaded cold sore, HSV-2 is the type that usually causes genital herpes. With that said, oral herpes caused by HSV-1 can spread from the mouth to the genitals through oral sex. There is currently no cure for herpes but there is medication available that can shorten or even prevent outbreaks.
When symptoms of herpes do appear, they can include:
- Pain or itching in the genital area
- Small red bumps or blisters
- Flu-like symptoms
If you are experiencing symptoms, it’s important to check in. You can do so by visiting your doctor or testing from home with LetsGetChecked.
HPV is the most common viral sexually transmitted infection in the US. There are many different types of HPV, and while some can cause complications, there is an HPV vaccine available that can prevent some of the effects of the virus. In the majority of cases, HPV will go away on its own within a few years. It can be spread through oral, vaginal, or anal sex and can even sometimes be spread through close skin-to-skin contact during sex.
It’s common to experience no symptoms however some signs of infection may include:
- Warts in the throat
- Genital or anal warts
- Flat warts on the face
Is oral sex safer than vaginal or anal sex?
Unfortunately, there aren’t enough studies that compare the risk of contracting a sexually transmitted infection through oral sex and anal or vaginal sex. This makes it difficult to give a straightforward answer on whether one type of sexual activity is particularly ‘safer’ than another.
Can you reduce your risk of getting an STD through oral sex?
As previously mentioned, other than choosing not to be sexually active, there is no one fool-proof way to avoid contracting an STD. There are however steps that can be taken to help reduce your risk of infection, including:
- Use condoms and dental dams correctly during oral, anal, or vaginal sex
- Communicate with your partner about your sexual history
- Get vaccinated for infections such as HPV and Hepatitis A and Hepatitis B
- Regularly test and check in on your sexual health (remember, a lot of infections show little to no symptoms)
One of the most reliable steps you can take to reduce the risk of getting or spreading STDs is through regular testing. This can be done with your doctor or from the comfort of your own home with LetsGetChecked’s at-home sexual health tests.
You should consider getting tested if:
- You’ve become sexually active
- You’ve had unprotected sex
- You’re experiencing symptoms of a sexually transmitted infection
- You’re entering into a new sexual relationship
- You’ve received a notification from a previous partner that they are infected (STDs can remain dormant for years and/ or take up to three weeks to become detectable.)