Sexually transmitted infections are most commonly passed on through penetrative vaginal or anal sex. However, many of them can also be transmitted through oral sex.
The three STIs that are most commonly passed on through oral sex (i.e. the stimulation of the genitals or anus with the tongue and mouth) are:
- Genital herpes
- Syphilis (1)
Gonorrhoea is carried in discharge from the penis and vagina. If infected vaginal fluid or semen gets into the throat during oral sex it can cause infection here. The good news is that gonorrhoea infection in the throat doesn’t typically cause symptoms, although some people may experience some pain and redness (2). It should be treated with antibiotics, as gonorrhoea usually is.
Genital herpes is caused by the herpes simplex virus and spread through skin-to-skin contact. The herpes simplex virus also causes cold sores, which means that it’s possible to contract genital herpes by receiving oral sex from somebody who has a cold sore.
Syphilis is typically spread through skin-to-skin contact, and more specifically contact with an infected sore. The sores caused by syphilis usually appear around the genitals and anus; performing oral sex on someone who has an open sore in this area will put you at risk of contracting the disease. Occasionally sores develop around the mouth, which means you can also be at risk of contracting syphilis if you receive oral sex from an infected person.
In addition to the conditions listed above, oral sex can also be responsible for the transmission of:
- Hepatitis A, B and C
- Genital warts
- Public lice
These infections are not commonly passed on through oral sex; the risk is usually greater if there are open wounds or sores on the genitals or anus, or inside the mouth.
Practising Oral Sex Safely
If you’re concerned that you may be at risk of an STI, the best way to stay safe when giving or receiving oral sex is to use condoms and dental dams. Dental dams are soft latex or polyurethane squares that are used to cover the vulva or anus during oral sex.
You should avoid oral sex altogether if you or your partner:
- has an STI
- has sores, cuts, rashes or blisters around the genitals/anus, or in the mouth
- has a throat infection
- is menstruating (3)
At The STI Clinic you can get home test kits for a number of infections. Their Throat Chlamydia/Gonorrhoea Test is a good option for people who think they may have contracted an infection through oral sex.