It’s time to put definitively answer a question that has, for ages, circulated through high school cafeterias and locker rooms nationwide: can you get an STD from oral sex? Are you ready? Here’s your answer: yes, you most certainly can.
“But it’s not REALLY sex though,” an adolescent doubter might vociferously argue. While we’re not here to debate semantics of what is and isn’t sex, we are looking at this scientifically. And oral sex is definitely one way to catch or spread a sexually transmitted disease.
But how common is it? And furthermore, which STDs are seen more often in people who have oral sex?
First, you should know that oral sex is very popular (shocking, we know). More than 80 percent of sexually active adults age 18 to 44 have reported engaging in oral sex at least once. And for younger people especially, the notion that oral sex is a totally safe alternative to vaginal or anal sex is all too common. Safer, sure. But totally risk-free? I’m afraid not.
Anyone who engages in oral sex with an infected partner can contract a disease or infection in the throat, mouth, genitals, or rectum. The chances of getting or spreading an STD through oral sex depends on a few different factors: the type of STD, the sex acts being engaged in, the frequency of such engagements, and how common the disease is among the population in which the sex partners belong. At the end of the day, educating yourself on these STDs and preventative methods, including STD testing, can help keep both you and your partner STD-free.
The following list of oral stds highlights the type of STDs a person can get from oral sex, as well as common STD symptoms, risk factors, and clinical treatment associated with each.
Can You Get HIV From Oral?
The risk of contracting HIV is higher through vaginal or anal sex, but that doesn’t mean that oral sex is a 100 percent safe alternative, especially since HIV symptoms may not be overtly apparent at first. HIV is spread by way of contact with infected blood or blood-contaminated bodily fluids. While it’s not spread through saliva, it can be passed through oral sex or even open-mouth kissing if one or more participants have bleeding gums or lips. HIV can also be spread through non-sexual acts such as needle-sharing or, to a lesser extent, an infected mother breastfeeding an infant. Because of rigorous blood testing practices, blood transfusions are no longer considered much of a risk in terms of contracting HIV.
Can You Get Chlamydia From Oral?
You definitely can, and it’s not as uncommon as you might think. Chlamydia is spread by way of skin to skin contact with an infected region on another person. When contracted orally, chlamydia symptoms typically appear in the throat, genitals, urinary tract, or rectum. If a person develops chlamydia of the throat, initial symptoms aren’t typical; instead, they develop over time and can manifest as painless mouth sores, white spots that resemble strep throat, and general tonsillitis. Left untreated, the disease can be spread to other uninfected partners, primarily by an infected person performing oral sex on a male’s penis.
Can You Get Gonorrhea From Oral
Just like chlamydia, gonorrhea is transmitted through skin to skin contact with an infected region on another person and, just like chlamydia, gonorrhea symptoms can affect the throat, genitals, urinary tract, and rectum (in both men and women). Compared to genital or rectal infections, throat infections are actually more difficult to cure for gonorrhea. Additionally, the risk of contracting or spreading HIV is increased in men and women who have gonorrhea.
Can You Get Herpes From Oral?
I’m afraid so. Herpes is transmitted very easily from person to person by way of skin-to-skin contact with an open sore–or chancre– apparent on the lips, mouth, throat, genitals, anus, rectum, and/or buttocks. As there is no cure for herpes, herpes symptoms and outbreaks are sporadic, it is critical that those with the virus abstain from sexual activity and kissing when sores are present. Even an innocent peck on the cheek is enough to transmit the virus to another person.
Can You Get Trichomoniasis From Oral?
You’re probably noticing a pattern here, but yes. Trichomoniasis is caused by the parasite Trichomonas vaginalis that lives in sexual fluids including semen. Hence, oral sex is no safe option when it comes to preventing the spread. Mind you, even if a man doesn’t ejaculate or “pulls out”, the risk is still present. While the usage of condoms will minimize the risk, it will not eliminate it completely. And trich may be present even if trichomoniasis symptoms are not.
Can You Get Syphilis From Oral?
Known as “The Great Pretender” due syphilis symptoms closely resembling those of other ailments, syphilis is spread by way of skin-to-skin contact with a syphilitic sore or chancre. And, you guessed it, it is transmissible through oral sex. Syphilis sores can appear on the mouth, lips, or throat (as well as the genitals or anus) making oral sex an extremely risky practice. If caught early enough, however, syphilis is easily curable with the right prescription antibiotic.
Can You Get Hepatitis B From Oral?
Hepatitis B is passed from one person to another when an infected person’s blood or sexual fluids (semen or vaginal fluids) enters the body of an uninfected person. So yes, you most certainly can get hepatitis B from oral in addition to vaginal or anal sex. As is the case with other STDs, condoms or other preventative measures can lower the risk of transmitting or contracting hepatitis B, but they will not eliminate the risk entirely. The best way to avoid contracting hepatitis B and hepatitis B symptoms, short of abstinence, is to receive the vaccine. Vaccines are typically administered to infants, but adults who haven’t yet received it are also eligible.
Can You Get Hepatitis C From Oral?
Call it an outlier or a change of pace, but unlike everything we’ve mentioned thus far, it is unlikely that you’ll catch hepatitis C or develop hepatitis C symptoms from oral sex. Hepatitis C is transmitted when contaminated blood enters the bloodstream of an uninfected body. So unless we are talking a case of bleeding lips or gums meeting an open sore or cut near the genital area, oral sex is not generally considered a “high risk” activity in terms of contracting or spreading hepatitis C. As hepatitis C is not transferred by way of saliva or general contact, kissing, hugging, shaking hands, and giving a high five are completely fine.
So there you have it. Despite unsubstantiated myths and rumors, oral sex is not a safe alternative to vaginal or anal sex when it comes to the contracting or spreading of sexually transmitted diseases. In some cases you might be able to lower the risk by taking preventative measures and/or wearing condoms, but nothing short of abstaining from sexual activity of any kind can keep you 100 percent protected when it comes to STDs. And since many STDs are asymptomatic, the only way to know for sure if you’ve contracted one is to find a reputable STD testing provider and get tested. In short, can you get an std from oral sex, yes, but there methods of protection available to help maintain optimal sexual health.