A number of sexually transmitted infections (STIs) can be passed on through oral sex. Oral sex involves a person using their mouth, tongue and lips to stimulate a partner’s genitals or anus. The STIs most commonly passed on via oral sex are herpes simplex, gonorrhoea and syphilis. Others less frequently passed on are chlamydia, HIV, hepatitis A, hepatitis B, hepatitis C, genital warts and pubic lice.
The exact risk of transmission is not known, but infections can be passed on even if there are no signs or symptoms. Below is a quick look at how infections can be passed on, and how you can help to protect yourself against them.
STIs can be passed on through oral sex in a number of ways, including:
This can happen with chlamydia, gonorrhoea, hepatitis B, hepatitis C, HIV and syphilis. Infected bodily fluids, such as semen, pre-ejaculatory fluid (pre-cum), blood or vaginal secretions can pass on STIs if they come into contact with:
• ulcers, or
• inflamed cells
on someone else’s lips, mouth, genitals or anus. Body fluids can also infect the membrane of the eyes and cells of the throat, allowing viruses or bacteria to enter the bloodstream or live in the cells.
Skin to skin contact
The herpes simplex virus can cause genital herpes and cold sores on the mouth, and syphilis can also cause blisters and sores. If these blisters or sores touch a partner’s mouth, genitals or anus the infection may be passed on.
Hepatitis A is passed on through infected faeces, which can be present on a person’s anus even if the area looks clean.
To help protect yourself against STIs during oral sex, use a condom on the penis, and a dam (a latex or soft plastic square) over the vagina or anus. Avoid oral sex if you or your partner have any cuts, sores or blisters in or around your genitals, anus or mouth – including cold sores.
For more information on STIs and safer oral sex, see fpa’s information leaflet.
Natika H Halil is the Director of Information for fpa (formerly the Family Planning Association), the UK's leading sexual health charity. fpa’s purpose is to enable people in the UK to make informed choices about sex and to enjoy sexual health.
Natika represents fpa on specialist sexual health boards including the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, the Faculty of Sexual Health and Reproductive Health Care, and the Royal College of General Practitioners among others. (www.fpa.org.uk)