While you can’t get pregnant from oral sex, it doesn’t mean that oral sex is a no-risk situation. Oral sex (using your mouth to pleasure someone’s penis, vagina, or anus) is still sex, and still involves sexual contact that could increase your risk of spreading or getting an STI.
Yep! You heard that right. While you might think you’re playing it safe by using condoms every time you have sexual intercourse, you’re still at risk if you’re not paying the same attention to staying safe during oral sex.
“The risk of getting STIs via oral sex versus vaginal or anal sex is definitely lower, but it’s still there,” said Nurse Nettie, NSW Health’s sexual health nurse. “Like with all things safe sex, the best way to protect yourself is to use a condom or dental dam if you’re giving oral sex. And of course, always get an STI test if you’ve had any type of unprotected sex.”
Here’s why and how you should protect yourself and your sexual partner during oral sex.
There are a few different infections that can be passed on via oral sex and your doctor can let you know if you need to get tested for them.
This is the most common STI passed on via oral sex in Australia. You may not realise it, but those cold sores you get on your mouth every once in a while are actually caused by Herpes Simplex Virus type 1 (HSV 1). Almost half of genital herpes is caused by HSV 1, passed from the mouth to the genitals during oral sex.
Herpes (officially known as HSV1 or HSV2) is one of the most common STIs in Australia. However, most people never know they have it because they don’t get symptoms.
If you do have symptoms, it might include pain or tingling around the lips, genitals or bum, followed by blisters that heal on their own. Make sure you avoid all sex (including oral) if you have a flare-up – that’s the best way to stay safe.
Chlamydia is a curable bacterial infection that, if left untreated, can cause serious complications including infertility, Pelvic Inflammatory Disease (PID) and painful swelling of the testicles. The great news is that chlamydia is easy to treat with a course of antibiotics. Chlamydia often has no symptoms, which is why getting tested is so important.
Sometimes referred to as ‘Gono’, gonorrhea is another bacterial infection that can be passed on via oral sex as well as intercourse. Like chlamydia, it’s curable if diagnosed. If left untreated it can cause infertility, pain and swelling of the testicles and Pelvic Inflammatory Disease (PID).
Syphilis can also be passed on via oral sex. It’s another bacterial infection which if left untreated can cause serious implications. Symptoms include ulcers in the mouth, penis, vagina or anus, and a red rash on the body.
Hepatitis A is only passed through oral sex to the bum or rimming. When someone gets Hep A they’ll feel super crook for a few weeks, then they usually get better. There’s also a vaccine.
If you’ve given or received unprotected oral sex, it’s a good idea to see your GP or visit a sexual health clinic for advice about testing. Getting tested is usually free and often as simple as a blood test, mouth swab and peeing in a cup.
Remember, we usually can’t tell when someone has an STI, as symptoms aren’t often visible, so using barrier protection (condoms and dams) is the best way to avoid STIs during oral sex.
You can get STI testing at your regular doctor (GP) or at a sexual health clinic. Depending on the type of sex that you’re having, your doctor may suggest different types of tests. If you’re concerned about STIs in the mouth, let your doctor know, because you might as well get all the tests done while you’re there, right? Some common tests include:
Thankfully, it’s easy to protect yourself and your partner during oral sex – just use barrier protection Like condoms or dental dams.
These are the best protection if you’re giving/receiving oral sex involving a penis. They can be purchased easily and are available in a wide variety of brands and sizes. If the taste of latex isn’t for you (and let’s face it, latex condoms aren’t exactly delicious), look for flavoured condoms and lubricants. Find out where you can buy condoms.
Dental dams are not as common as condoms but are an excellent way to protect against STIs during oral sex around the vagina or anus. A dental dam is a thin, flexible piece of latex that protects against mouth to vagina or mouth to anus contact. They can be tricky to get hold of but you can always make your own out of a condom.
If you’re asking yourself “Do I have an STI?” then the best thing to do is to just go and get tested. It’s easy, quick, usually painless and can be completely free if you use your Medicare card at a bulk billing doctor.
If you don’t have Medicare, you may still be able to get a free STI test at a Sexual Health Clinic in NSW. And, don’t worry – if you’re concerned about anonymity – your results will always be kept confidential.
Do you have questions about sexual health? Why not join the conversation on the Play Safe sex and relationship forum or ask Nurse Nettie a question. Or find out more about STI testing and STI treatment in Sydney and NSW.