Second base, eating cake, going down. Oral sex has so many names, and it’s a part of physical relationships that a lot of people enjoy, but very few people talk about. In this article, Dr. Renuka Dangare discusses risks of STDs with giving and receiving oral sex, and being safe

Will I get an STI if I give a blow job?

Dr. Renuka Dangare is a practicing physician with work experience in India and United States. She has largely worked in obstetrics and gynaecology. Outside of work, Renuka loves baking and is a mom to a baby and two cats.

This article has been written by Debayani Bose with clinical inputs from Dr. Renuka Dangare.

 

Conversations regarding safe sex happen to be restricted to vaginal sex, and ways to prevent sexually transmitted diseases. But we often don’t realise that so many diseases can spread through other forms of intimacy especially oral sex. 

According to the ‘Global Epidemiology of Sexually Transmitted Diseases’, Sexually Transmitted Diseases (STIDs) are the second major cause of unpleasant diseases in young adult women. 

Adolescents and young adults (15–24 years old) make up only 25 percent of the sexually active population, but represent almost 50% of all new acquired STDs. STDs are epidemics and have present enormous health and economic consequences.

What is Oral sex?

Oral sex is a sexual activity in which the genitalia of one partner is stimulated by the mouth of the other partner; fellacio is mouth to penis contact, and cunnilungis is mouth to vagina contact. Sex lingo for these acts include blow jobs, giving head, going down, or eating out. 

Oral sex is common in couples of every kind and people from all gender orientations. One may involve in oral sex as part of foreplay before sexual intercourse, during or following intercourse. 

Certain STDs can be contracted via oral sex just as easily as vaginal sex. A number of STDs can be contracted through oral sex.

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO) about 1 million new STDs are acquired each day. It is therefore important that we understand how STDs are transmitted and how they can reduce the risk of spreading infections.

Oral sex can transmit oral, respiratory, and genital pathogens- translated into simple language means, some germs can also cause a throat infection as well as a genital infection. 

Two factors that play a key role here are –

  1. the exposure to various secretions of our body such as semen, vaginal fluids, oral and anal secretions and 
  2. the presence of cuts, bruises, sore, ulcers and rashes that can act as potential infection sources.

Given below are the conditions you may be at a risk for with unprotected oral sex.

Chlamydia: 

  • Chlamydia infects both men and women and can be an asymptomatic infection in many. It can also cause pelvic inflammatory disease and lead to infertility.
  • The organism Chlamydia Trachomatis affects throat, genitals, urinary tract and rectum.
  • Your partner may carry the infection in their throat and infect you when giving head.
  • While an asymptomatic infection is highly likely, infected persons may also complain of irritation and discharge from the vagina, burning during urination, bleeding between periods and pain during sex.

Gonorrhea: 

  • Just like Chlamydia, gonorrhoea can also spread both by giving and receiving oral sex. It can cause an asymptomatic infection and lead to infertility.
  • The organs the gonococcal bacteria target are the throat, genitals, rectum and urinary tract.
  • Symptomatic persons can get painful bloody vaginal discharge, show signs of PID, burning during urination and symptoms just like chlamydia. Both male and female persons are affected.

Syphilis: 

  • Syphilis affects the lips , mouth, throat, genital regions, anus and rectum.
  • If your partner has a painless little sore somewhere on their genitalia, this is one to watch out for. Not just down under, syphilis causes sores on the lips, mouth and the throat as well. 
  • Besides a rash or a painless ulcer in your perineal region, syphilis can also cause a rash on the torso and flu like symptoms.

Herpes:

  • Genital herpes can be caused by two kinds of herpes viruses – HSV 1 and HSV 2. 
  • HSV 1 can predominantly be spread by kissing or sharing of saliva. It is the virus that is spread through cold sores and eye infections. It can involve your food pipe causing esophagitis or inflammation of the esophagus.
  • HSV 2 mainly causes genital herpes.But it can also infect and causes sores and esophagitis in the partner giving oral pleasure if the partner receiving it has it.
  • Key to minimizing  spread is getting tested early and informing your partner.

Human papillomavirus (HPV):

  • Different types of HPV will have different symptoms. There are 40 types of HPV that can affect the genital area and mouth.
  • Oral HPV has no symptoms and it is hard for people to know they have the infection.
  • In very rare cases, HPV can cause orl cancer.

HIV: 

  • Giving oral sex on the penis, vagina, or anus of a partner with HIV may cause HIV infection. 
  • HIV symptoms include fever,chills,rash,night sweats, muscle aches, sore throat, fatigue, swollen lymph nodes and mouth ulcers.
  • These symptoms can last anywhere from a few days to several weeks. But some people do not have any symptoms at all during this early stage of HIV.

Impact of STDs on Women’s Health

Complications of STDs are greater and more frequent among women than men for several reasons (Wasserheit and Holmes, 1992). Biologically, women are more likely to become infected than men if exposed to a sexually transmitted pathogen. STDs are also more likely to remain undetected in women, resulting in delayed diagnosis and treatment, and these untreated infections are more likely to lead to complications such as infertility and malignancy in the long run.

So what is the solution ?

  1.     Condoms : Condoms are the way to go ! Condoms are an excellent method of protecting self and partner from any STI. Both latex and non latex condoms are equally effective. Some tips for condom use are –
  1. Don’t use an oil based lubricant. Oil can degrade latex and reduce the efficacy of condoms.
  2. Always check for the expiry date on them.
  3. Use a separate fresh condom for when you are switching from anal or vaginal sex to oral sex, from anal to vaginal sex as well. 
  1. Other barrier methods: Diaphragms and dental dams-

For female persons, a diaphragm or an internal condom is also an option. Although, I wouldn’t highly recommend it as a diaphragm will not be as efficacious against STI’s.

Dental dams are pieces of latex that can be used to protect the mouth or vagina in oral intercourse. You can also make a makeshift dam out of a latex glove.

  1. STI testing – Always a good practice to test yourself within 3 months of getting a new sexual partner.
  2. Conversation and testing together- It is VERY IMPORTANT that both you and your partner are aware of possible risks and each other’s STI history when entering into a sexual relationship. Communication and comfort are key !
  3. Vaccines – Certain vaccines available may reduce the risk of STI’s in high risk groups.The two vaccines are discussed below.

HPV Vaccination: HPV vaccines are vaccines that protect against infection with human papillomaviruses (HPV). HPV types can cause certain types of cancer—cervical, anal, oropharyngeal, penile, vulvar, and vaginal. Like other immunizations that guard against viral infections, HPV vaccines stimulate the body to produce antibodies that, in future encounters with HPV, bind to the virus and prevent it from infecting cells. 

HPV vaccines are highly effective in preventing infection with the types of HPV they target, maximum before individuals begin to engage in sexual activity.Two vaccines licensed globally are available in India; a quadrivalent vaccine (Gardasil™ marketed by Merck) and a bivalent vaccine (Cervarix™ marketed by GlaxoSmithKline).

Hepatitis B Vaccination: Hepatitis B vaccine is given as a two or three dose series, depending on the age that you receive the vaccine. In general, you only need the complete Hepatitis B vaccine series once in a lifetime. This vaccine is particularly recommended for folks engaging in unprotected sexual intercourse and persons in the healthcare industry.

Conclusion: 

Sexually active people should talk to a physician about the risk of oral sex with a person who has the infection. In some cases, there are precautions a person can take to avoid contracting the infection. In all cases, open communication with a partner and keeping up to date with reliable medical information can help make wise decisions.

Disclaimer: This article is for informational purposes only and should not be construed as a substitute for medical advice or treatment.

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