Most of us feel like we’re pretty well-educated about sex and STDs, but what about the risks of oral sex? Do you know which diseases can be transmitted through oral sex, and how to keep yourself safe?
Also read: STDs you can get from anal sex
This is the most commonly transmitted STD through oral sex.
There are two types of herpes simplex virus (HSV) infection: HSV 1, which causes sores around the mouth, and HSV 2 which is responsible for genital sores. It is possible for a person with HSV 1 to transmit the virus and cause genital sores on the receiving partner. It is also possible, although rare, for HSV 2 to be transmitted from genital to mouth contact, causing mouth sores.
It is possible to transmit and catch herpes even during times when there are no symptoms.
Certain medications, such as Zovirax, and the use of condoms or dental dams can help to lessen the chance of transmission, but won’t eliminate it entirely.
HPV (human papillomavirus)
Also referred to as genital warts, HPV can also be transmitted via oral sex. In fact, HPV acquired through oral sex is believed to be a main cause of throat cancer.
Condoms and dental dams are effective in reducing the transmission rate of HPV through oral sex, but they do not prevent it, entirely, since, like with herpes, the disease is spread through skin to skin contact, rather than through bodily fluids.
HPV presents as small, hard, generally painless white bumps on the genitalia and is a major cause of cancer in women.
Sometimes called “The Clap,” gonorrhea is very easily transmitted through oral sex, most often causing throat infections, which are difficult to treat, but usually resolve in a matter of three to four months.
It is less likely to be transmitted from a female to a partner, since the site of infection is at the cervix, which doesn’t come into play during cunnilingus.
Oral gonorrhea can produce a sore throat, difficulty swallowing, red spots and white/yellow discharge. Oral gonorrhea can also be transmitted to another person through oral sex, manifesting as an infection of the genitals.
Gonorrhea is treated with antibiotics, but in recent years, antibiotic resistant strains of the disease have been emerging, making it difficult to treat. Left untreated, gonorrhea can cause, pelvic inflammatory disease (PID) and epididymitis in men, which can both lead to infertility.
This is transmitted similarly to gonorrhea, being more common during fellatio, and with low female to partner transmission rates.
The symptoms of a chlamydia throat infection are similar to a sore throat because of a cold. Dry, scratchy throat and painful swallowing are common. The symptoms of a genital infection are burning during urination, pain during sex (for women), testicular pain, rectal pain and discharge, discharge from the penis or vagina.
Like gonorrhea, it is treated with antibiotics.
It is extremely transmittable via oral sex. It is only contagious during symptomatic phases, however, in some phases of the disease, the painless sores are easy to overlook.
The symptoms include sores, skin rash and lesions on the palms of the hands and soles of the feet, fever, swollen lymph nodes, hair loss, headaches, weight loss and exhaustion.
Left untreated, syphilis can damage internal organs, including the brain. Late stage syphilis causes blindness, paralysis, trouble coordinating muscle movements and even death. It is also treated with antibiotics.
It may not be transmittable through traditional oral sex, but oral to anal contact is a risk factor. Fortunately, most people are being vaccinated for hepatitis B.
Oral to anal sex also comes with a risk for hepatitis A, which isn’t as widely given. If you practice this type of oral sex, ask your doctor for a hepatitis A vaccine.
It is transmitted primarily through vaginal or anal sex, but it is possible to transmit it via oral sex.
The risk is increased when cuts or sores in the mouth are present, when ejaculate is taken into the mouth, and when the person receiving oral sex is infected with other STDs in addition to HIV.
The risk of contracting HIV through receiving oral sex is low, as it is not transmitted through saliva. The risk of giving oral sex to an infected partner is much higher, as it is transmitted through genital secretions.
Condoms and dental dams provide an effective line of defense.