The Facts About Oral Sex & STDs

For much of our culture, oral sex is a taboo topic--something too private and personal to discuss openly--but that silence has resulted in a dangerous lack of knowledge. When it comes to your health, ignorance isn't bliss. In fact, it can be costly and painful. For the sake of your health and safety, you need to know the risks of oral sex.

What is it?
Who's doing it?
Is it sex?
Is it safe?
Oral Sex & Syphilis
Oral Sex & Gonorrhea
Oral Sex & Genital Herpes
Oral Sex & Chlamydia
Oral Sex & HPV
Oral Sex & HIV

Despite widespread misconceptions, oral sex is risky sexual activity that puts participants at risk for a number of STDs. If you've already been sexually active outside a lifelong mutually faithful relationship (as in marriage), call our WISH clinic today at 946-9474 and schedule an appointment for you and your partner to be tested for STDs.

Abstinence from sexual activity--including oral sex--or lifetime faithfulness to one uninfected partner is the only certain way to avoid being infected.


 

What Is It?

Oral sex is contact of one person's mouth or tongue with the genitals of another person.


 

Who's doing it?

The recent National Survey of Family Growth 2005 reports that 80% of men and women 18-44 reported participating in oral sex.  The statistics show that about 55% of adolescents age 15-19 reported participating in oral sex. 

There are few scientific surveys that have studied oral sex but there are indications that oral sex is on the rise especially among middle school and high school children.

Sources: Mosher, W., et.al. Advance Data from Vital and Health Statistics, National Center for Health Statistics, Number 362, September 15, 2005, p.34, found at http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/ad/ad362


 

Is it sex?

There is a common growing idea that unless a couple has vaginal/penile sex that it isn’t really sex. Almost any dictionary will define sexual intercourse as vaginal/penile as well as “intercourse involving genital contact between individuals other than penetration of the vagina by the penis”. 

Sources: “sexual intercourse.” Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary. 2006-2007. http://www.merriamwebster.com


 

Is it safe?

Another misconception about oral sex is that it’s “safe”.  This is a dangerous myth.  Although pregnancy is not an issue with oral sex, a wide variety of STD’s (sexually transmitted diseases) can be spread through oral sex.  Oral sex has been found to spread syphilis, gonorrhea, HIV, HPV, genital herpes, chlamydia and possibly hepatitis C.

Sources: Edwards, S., Carne, C., Oral sex and the transmission of viral STI’s, sexually transmitted Infections, 1998, 74 (1) 6-10.

Disease information: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for HIV, STD and TB Prevention Division of Sexually Transmitted Diseases, Fact Sheets found at: http://www.cdc.gov/STD/HealthComm/fact_sheet.htm

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.  Sexually Transmitted Disease Surveillance 2007.  Atlanta Georgia: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, found at: http://www.cdc.gov/std/stats07/tables/1.htm


 

Oral Sex & Syphilis

Syphilis is a highly contagious STD. Transmission usually occurs during vaginal, anal or oral sex when syphilitic sores or patches come into contact with slightly abraded skin or mucous membranes. Left untreated, syphilis can progress from painless ulcers to a rash, heart disease or memory loss, and death. While penicillin is a highly effective treatment, it cannot reverse damage already done by the disease. Oral sex is an efficient way to transmit syphilis, and has played an important role in a number of recent syphilis outbreaks.

Sources:
Cook PA, Clark P, Bellis MA, et al. Re-emerging syphilis in the UK: A behavioural analysis of infected individuals. Commun Dis Public Health. 2001;4:253-258.
Poulton M, Dean GL, Williams DI, Carter P, Iversen A, Fisher M. Surfing with spirochaetes: An ongoing syphilis outbreak in Brighton. Sex Transm Infect. 2001;77:319-321.
Lacey HB, Higgins SP, Graham D. An outbreak of early syphilis: Cases from North Manchester General Hospital, UK. Sex Transm Infect. 2001;77:311-313.
Lacey HB, Higgins SP, Graham D. An outbreak of early syphilis: Cases from North Manchester General Hospital, UK. Sex Transm Infect. 2001;77:311-313. 


 

Oral Sex & Gonorrhea

Gonorrhea is a very common, highly contagious STD that is passed through contact with infectious fluids. Gonorrhea can cause pelvic inflammatory disease (PID) in women, which can lead to abdominal pain and infertility. Infected pregnant women are at increased risk for miscarriage and premature births, and their infants can have serious eye infections. Gonorrhea survives well in the throat, and gonorrhea throat infections from oral sex are relatively common. Most people with throat infections have vaginal or penile infections as well. Although most throat infections from gonorrhea cause no symptoms, you can develop a sore throat, fever and swollen lymph nodes.

Source:
Hook EW III, Handsfield HH. Gonococcal infections in the adult. In: Holmes KK, Mardh PA, Sparling PF, et al., eds. Sexually Transmitted Diseases. 3rd ed. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill; 1999:456.


 

Oral Sex & Genital Herpes

Herpes simplex-1 (HSV-1) and herpes simplex-2 (HSV-2) are very similar viruses that are transmitted by direct contact. In the past, most cold sores were caused by HSV-1 and most genital herpes was caused by HSV-2. Genital infections cause painful blisters, ulcers and difficulty while urinating and can recur for a whole lifetime. Although ongoing therapy can reduce the number and severity of recurrent infections, there is no cure. Genital infections acquired during pregnancy can cause encephalitis (brain swelling), retardation and death in newborns. Both HSV-1 and HSV-2 can be spread from an infected person to an uninfected person even if the infected person has no visible sores. Both viruses are easy to spread through oral sex. Oral sex appears to be changing how many people get herpes and where they get it. In one study of STD clinic attendees, those who had oral sex during the preceding two months were three times more likely to have genital HSV-1 than HSV-2. This is the opposite of what used to be seen, when most genital infections were caused by HSV-2.

Source:
Lafferty WE, Downey L, Celum C, Wald A. Herpes simplex virus type 1 as a cause of genital herpes: Impact on surveillance and prevention. J Infect Dis. 2000;181:1454-1457.


 

Oral Sex & Chlamydia

Chlamydia can be spread during vaginal, anal or oral sex. It can also be passed to a mother's newborn infant during childbirth.

Chlamydia, if left untreated can cause an infection called Pelvic inflammatory disease up to 40% of the time.

PID can cause permanent damage to the uterus, tubes and tissue around the ovaries.

Sources: Disease information: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for HIV, STD and TB Prevention Division of Sexually Transmitted Diseases, Fact Sheets found at: http://www.cdc.gov/STD/HealthComm/fact_sheet.htm


 

Oral Sex & HPV

-About 20 million people are currently infected with HPV (Human Papillomavirus.)

-Approximately 6.2 million new cases occur each year.

-At least 50% of sexually active individuals will acquire HPV in their lifetime.

-HPV can lead to cancer of the cervix, vulva, vagina, anus or penis.

-HPV can be transmitted by oral, vaginal or anal sex. 

Source: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services-Center for Disease Control and Prevention-National Center for HIV/AIDS, viral Hepatitis, STD, and TB prevention division of STD Prevention-Atlanta, Georgia 30333.  Sexually Transmitted Disease Surveillance 2009. http://www.cdc.gov


 

Oral Sex & HIV

HIV is transmitted through contact with infected blood or body fluid. Infected pregnant women can pass it to their babies. The virus invades the immune system and destroys it over time. The destruction of the immune system reduces a person's ability to fight off infections and cancer. People with HIV eventually develop AIDS, which is often fatal. When first infected, you may only have flu-like symptoms (feeling tired, feverish or achy) that last a little while. You may have no other symptoms for years. If you go on to get AIDS, you may get multiple infections that other people fight off easily, such as tuberculosis, pneumonia and yeast infections. Anal sex, multiple partners or shooting drugs are particularly high-risk activities. Transmission of the virus also occurs during vaginal and oral sex. Recent estimates of the proportion of new HIV cases attributable to oral sex range from less than 1% to 7%.

Sources:
Page-Shafer K, Shiboski CH, Osmond DH, et al. Risk of HIV infection attributable to oral sex among men who have sex with men and in the population of men who have sex with men. AIDS. 2002;16:2350-2352.
Gottlieb S. Oral sex may be important risk factor for HIV infection. BMJ. 2000;320:400.