Oral Sex and STIs

Oral Sex

In recent years, the prevalence of oral sex has risen considerably throughout the United States. In 2012, a survey from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that 81% of females and 80% of males between the ages of 20 and 24 have engaged in oral sex.1 Some individuals prefer oral sex over vaginal sex because of their religious views. For example, some religions discourage the more traditional forms of sexual activity, such as coitus, before marriage. Others prefer oral sex because they view it as a way to maintain their virginity and prevent sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and pregnancy.


Different Forms of Oral Sex

Oral Sex is one of the more common forms of sexual activity. There are several different types of oral sex:



STI Risks of Oral Sex

Contrary to common perception, oral sex carries the risk of contracting an STI. The most common STIs that can be contracted from unprotected oral sex include gonorrhea, chlamydia, HPV, HIV, and herpes. These STIs can be transmitted through mouth-to-genital and mouth-to-anus contact. Chances of STI contraction increase if there is a direct transmission of bodily fluids into the mouth. STIs can lead to several health complications if the infection is not treated effectively in a timely manner.²


The majority of people with an STI do not experience symptoms. Thus, many people with an STI do not know they are infected and will not take the necessary steps to prevent passing the infection to their partners. Despite the lack of symptoms, STIs can still be transmitted to sexual partner.2 The World Health Organization estimates that each year there are an estimated 357 million new cases of STIs such as chlamydia, gonorrhea, syphilis, or trichomoniasis that are transmissible in many ways. This alarming figure only highlights the need for individuals to take the necessary steps to prevent the transmission of STIs during oral sex.  




Herpes is a viral infection also known as Herpes Simplex Virus (HSV). Herpes is one of the more common STIs and is categorized into two types: Herpes Type 1 (HSV-1) and Herpes Type 2 (HSV-2). HSV-1 can be transmitted through direct contact with open sores on the skin as well as by sharing objects that have come into contact with the mouth, such as toothbrushes and eating utensils. HSV-2 is primarily transmitted during sexual contact with an individual that has an HSV-2 infection. HSV-1 and HSV-2 are also commonly referred to as “oral herpes” and “genital herpes”, respectively.  Although HSV-1 is primarily found in the mouth, it can easily be spread to the genital through sexual behavior. Likewise, HSV-2 can be spread from the genitals to the mouth, eyes, etc. Oral sex is the most common way to transmit these strains from genitals to mouth and vice versa. Symptoms of herpes include the emergence of blisters or sores on or around affected areas such as the mouth, genitals, or rectum. However, many people infected with herpes are often asymptomatic.³ This is particularly important during oral sex because individuals can contract herpes regardless if sores are present; however, the risk of transmission is highest in the presence of sores. To  reduce the risk of contracting or transmitting herpes, a person should use a condom or a dental dam during all mouth to genital contact. Although there is no known cure for herpes at this time, treatments can help individuals relieve the symptoms.5


STI Prevention During Oral Sex

Sexually transmitted infections are bacterial, viral, or parasitic infections that are passed between sexual partners. Infections transmitted during oral sex can originate from either the mouth or the genitals. The most effective prevention of STI transmission is a barrier contraception. Barrier methods prevent the bacteria, virus, or parasite from transferring from the infected person to their partner.

Barrier methods, such as condoms and dental dams, are highly effective at preventing, the transmission of STIs when used properly.2

Both male and female condoms can be used during oral sex. Male condoms are placed onto the penis and prevent direct contact of the mouth and penis. Male condoms come in a variety of flavors and colors. Learning to incorporate fun methods of condom application is something that can greatly enhance the experience for partners. Flavored lubes may also be incorporated into oral sex in order to help reduce unpleasant friction, in addition to intensifying the sexual experience by incorporating taste and smell.




A female condom is a pouch that has flexible rings at each end and is used during intercourse to prevent pregnancy and reduce the risk of sexually transmitted infections. Although female condoms can be used during oral sex, dental dams are more common.

Dental dams are another form of barrier methods that provide effective protection against STIs. A dental dam is a thin piece of latex that is positioned over the vulva before oral sex begins, and acts as a barrier between mouth and genitals. Dental dams may also be used for anilingus.

Abstinence is when a person decides not to have sex.  Abstinence is 100% effective in preventing pregnancy and extremely effective at preventing the transmission of STIs. STIs can be spread through physical genital contact, even if intercourse or oral sex does not take place. Therefore, the only way to completely ensure that both parties will not contact or transmit an STI is by avoiding all types of intimate genital contact.



Oral sex, just like any other form of sex, should be performed with the proper protection. Using male condoms, female condoms, or dental dams, or practicing abstinence will all greatly reduce the likelihood of STI transmission. Although the risks of STI transmission can be unsettling, with proper protection and knowledge oral sex can be a fun and safe aspect of any person’s sex life.



  1. James, Susan Donaldson. "CDC: Dip in Oral Sex Among Teens, but Numbers Still High." ABC News. ABC News Network, 16 Aug. 2012. Web. 11 Oct. 2016.
  2. WHO. "Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs)." World Health Organization. World Health Organization, Aug. 2016. Web. 11 Oct. 2016.
  3. Levay, Simon, John Baldwin, and Janice Baldwin. "Chapter 15 - STIs." Discovering Human Sexuality. 3rd ed. N.p.: Sinauer Associates, 2016. 485-87. Print.
  4. Hunt, Alan, and Bruce Curtis. "A Genealogy of the Genital Kiss: Oral Sex in the Twentieth Century." The Free Library. The Canadian Journal of Human Sexuality, 22 June 2006. Web. 11 Oct. 2016
  5. Johnson, Traci C. "Herpes Simplex Virus: Type 1 and Type 2 Symptoms, Diagnosis, Treatment." WebMD. WebMD, 8 Sept. 2016. Web. 15 Nov. 2016.

 Last Updated: 28 November 2016.