Oral Sex and STDs

Many people are wondering whether oral sex should even be considered sex. While arriving at an answer depends on how you personally define sex, one thing is for sure: oral sex is not safe from sexually transmitted disease (STD). If you do not practice safe sex, such as by using condoms, you are at higher risk for catching a variety of infections, including gonorrhoea, syphilis and chlamydia.

What Is Oral Sex?

Oral sex is when a person puts his/her mouth, lips or tongue on his/her partner’s genitals or anus. Oral sex can be classified as either of the following:

• Cunnilingus is the oral contact with the vagina
• Fellatio is oral contact with the penis
• Anilingus (also called ‘rimming’) is the oral contact with the anus.

As with other types of sexual activities, oral sex carries the risks of STDs. It is possible to get infected in the throat and/or mouth from giving oral sex, particularly from giving fellatio. It can also be that the infection occurs on the genitals or anus from receiving oral sex. While many people enjoy oral sex, especially because it does not carry the risk of pregnancy, some STDs can be easily passed on this way.

What Infections Can Be Passed Through Oral Sex?

Certain STDs are more commonly passed on through oral sex. These infections include:

• Herpes: Sites of initial infection can be on the lips, mouth, throat, genitals, rectum, and buttocks. Oftentimes, this infection causes no noticeable symptoms. If it does, it includes sores or blisters in the affected area.

• Gonorrhoea: This sexually transmitted disease can occur in the throat, genitals, rectum and urinary tract, but shows no symptoms in most cases. If there are symptoms, it usually includes sore throat, an abnormal discharge from the penis, vagina, or rectum, and/or a burning sensation when urinating.

• Syphilis: Syphilis can infect the lips, mouth, throat, genitals, and rectum, but also shows no symptoms in most cases until in its advanced stage. That is why in Singapore, you need std testing regularly. When symptoms arise, it is often characterized with a single or multiple sores in the affected area and skin rash on the palms of the hands and/or soles of the feet. Symptoms may disappear on their own, but without treatment the bacteria remains in the body and may cause organ failure.

• Human Papillomavirus (HPV): HPV primarily affects the mouth, throat, genitals and anus. Although most cases have no symptoms, some types of HPV cause warts in and around the anus and genitals, and in the throat and mouth. If left untreated, other types of HPV can develop into cancer of the throat, cervix or rectum.

As noticed, these infections are often asymptomatic. To detect and treat them, STD testing should be done. Discuss with a Singapore healthcare provider about what tests you should take.

How Are Infections Transmitted?

You can only catch an infection if your partner has one, and you can only pass on an infection if you are infected with one. If you are sexually active, it is important to have regular STD screening and know how infections can be transmitted through oral sex.

• Skin-to-Skin Contact: As mentioned, herpes can cause open sores and blisters. If any of these touches your genitals, anus or mouth, the infection may be passed on. However, genital warts can rarely be transmitted on the lips and mouth, but pubic lice can be passed by the pubic hair and coarse facial hair.

• Body Fluids: Viruses and bacteria that can cause infections can be transmitted through body fluids, like blood, semen, pre-ejaculation fluid, and vaginal secretions. Infections can occur if infected fluids come in contact with open cuts and sores, the mouth, throat, genitals, anus, and the membrane of the eyes.

• Ingestion: Hepatitis A is a contagious liver infection that is passed through infected faeces. If you or your partner is infected, the one that is not infected can catch the infection by touching or giving anilingus to the infected partner. Even if the anal area looks clean, the bacteria are invisible to the naked eye and could be lingering in the area.

How to Prevent Transmission of STDs?

Besides STD testing, using a dental dam, condom, or other barrier method every time having oral sex will significantly reduce transmission of infection.

• For fellatio: Before getting the mouth in contact with the penis, cover the genital first with non-lubricated latex condom. If any of you is allergic to latex, a polyurethane condom can be used.

• For cunnilingus and anilingus: Before the mouth gets in contact with the vagina or the anus, use a dental dam to serve as a barrier between the mouth and the vagina. Another option is to cut open a condom to create a large pad that looks like a dental dam. Use the condom as how you would use a dental dam.

The best way to avoid catching an infection from oral sex is to abstain from any form of sex, or at least be in a mutually monogamous relationship with someone who have undergone STD screening and appeared negative of any infection. However, many infected people in Singapore are unaware that they have STD because many of these diseases often have no symptoms.

If you are sexually active, you should get an STD test regularly and talk to any new partner before having sex with them. Anyone who has seen signs and symptoms of infection should avoid having sex of any form and visit an STD testing clinic to get tested. It is important to discuss openly and honestly with a professional healthcare provider your activities that might put you at risk for an infection, including oral sex.