Ask a VWC Nurse: Answers to Your Commonly Asked Questions
Once a month, we feature answers to commonly asked questions that our Valley Women’s Clinic medical staff receives. Our nurses provide answers to these questions here on the blog.
Q. Is Oral Sex “Safe Sex”?
Because pregnancy is not an issue with oral sex, many people view it as safe, or at least as less risky than other types of sex.
A. Oral sex, like other types of sex, carries the risk of contracting sexually transmitted infections (STIs), therefore it is not “safe sex.”
Both men and women are at risk of getting STIs through oral sex, just as with vaginal and anal sex. There are several STIs that are known to be transmittable through oral sex:
Chlamydia is the most common bacterial STI in the U.S. While chlamydia is less likely to be spread through oral sex than through vaginal sex, it is possible. Many people do not realize they have it. Chlamydia can be treated and cured with antibiotics. However, untreated chlamydia can have serious effects, particularly for women, including pelvic inflammatory disease.
Gonorrhea is another very common STI that can cause infection of the throat from oral sex. It can also manifest itself in the genitals and rectum. Symptoms can sometimes be more obvious for men than for women. Gonorrhea can be treated and cured with antibiotics. However, like chlamydia, untreated gonorrhea can have serious effects for both men and women.
Genital herpes is caused by two types of the herpes simplex viruses. Type 1 is often associated with oral herpes and type 2 with genital herpes. However, the strains are now intermixed. Oral sex is a risk factor for type 1 infections. Most people with herpes have few symptoms. There is no cure for herpes. However, there are medicines that can prevent or shorten outbreaks.
Syphilis is an STD that can be transmitted by direct contact with a syphilis sore during vaginal, anal, or oral sex. Sores can be found on the lips and in the mouth, on the penis, vagina, anus, or in the rectum. Syphilis can be treated and cured with antibiotics. If untreated, syphilis progresses through stages that can cause very serious complications from ulcers and rash to damage to internal organs.
HPV is the most common viral STD. It is more commonly transmitted through vaginal and anal sex, but can also be spread through oral sex. Often there are no symptoms, but it sometimes causes genital warts. Other types of HPV can cause cervical and other cancers including cancer of the vulva, vagina, penis, or anus. It can also cause cancer in the back of the throat, including the base of the tongue and tonsils.
HIV is a virus that can be spread through anal, vaginal, and oral sex. The HIV virus destroys the immune system over time, and there is no cure for HIV. According to the CDC, the chance that an HIV-negative person will get HIV from oral sex with an HIV-positive partner is extremely low. Factors that may increase the risk of transmitting HIV through oral sex are ejaculation in the mouth with oral ulcers, bleeding gums, genital sores, and the presence of other sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), which may or may not be visible.
Reducing Your Risk
While condoms have been shown to reduce the risk of STIs during vaginal sex, much less is known about their effectiveness in oral sex. The American Sexual Health Association states that you can lower your chances of giving or receiving STIs during oral sex by using a condom, dental dam or other barrier method every time you have oral sex.
However, research shows that condom use during oral sex is extremely rare. According to the American College Health Association survey for Spring 2015, of undergraduate students who had had oral sex in the last 30 days, 89% reported that they or their partners had never used a condom or other protective barrier.
Even if you and your partner break the mold and do use a condom during oral sex, keep in mind that, according to the CDC, just like for other types of sex, condom use cannot provide absolute protection against any STD. The CDC recommends the following ways to help reduce your risk:
We’re Here for You
If you’re worried that you may be at risk of having an STI from oral sex, Valley Women’s Clinic is here for you. We provide free testing for chlamydia and gonorrhea. Our nurses can talk to you about oral sex or other questions you may have about your sexual health. Request an appointment today at our Blacksburg or Radford clinic.
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