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Sexual health advice

An archive of expert responses to questions on sexual health submitted by NHS Choices users.

Posts from November 2009

  • 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:

    Body fluids
    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:
    • sores,
    • cuts,
    • 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.

    Ingestion (eating)
    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)

  • Hi, thank you for your question. If the condom splits it won’t necessarily come off, as it is possible for the condom to stay on the man’s penis if it splits.
    If the condom does split and you are not using any other method of contraception (for example the pill, or the implant) and if you don’t want to get pregnant, you will need to get emergency contraception.
    Emergency contraception can be used up to five days after sex to help prevent a pregnancy. There are two types of emergency contraception; the emergency contraceptive pill and the emergency IUD (intra uterine device).
    The emergency contraceptive pill can be taken up to 72 hours (three days) after sex. However, it’s more effective the sooner after sex it’s taken. It doesn’t protect you from pregnancy if you have further unprotected sex after taking it, so you’d need to use it again if this happens. The emergency contraceptive pill is available free from:
    • Brook centres (for under 25s).
    • Young people's services.
    • Family planning clinics.
    • NHS walk-in centres.
    • Most sexual health/GUM (genito urinary medicine) clinics.
    • Some accident and emergency departments.
    • GP (local doctor).
    Women over 16 can also buy it from a chemist for around £25, although some chemists can provide it for free.
    An IUD (sometimes called the coil) can be fitted as an emergency contraceptive up to five days after sex. It is a small T-shaped piece of plastic and copper that is inserted into the vagina, through the cervix and into the uterus. It has to be fitted by a specially trained doctor or nurse, so it’s a good idea to check with a member of staff at the service you go to (for example, a sexual health clinic or community contraception clinic) first to see if they have a nurse or doctor that can fit one.
    As the condom split there may also be a risk of sexually transmitted infection, and it is worth speaking to a doctor or nurse to find out more.
    If you have any worries or questions, you can also call the Ask Brook helpline which is free and confidential. The number is 0808 802 1234.

    Rachael Wyartt is Manager for the Ask Brook information service, which offers a confidential helpline, online enquiry service and text information service. Ask Brook is available free and in confidence to young people on 0808 802 1234 or via Ask Brook on Brook’s website.

    Brook is the UK’s leading provider of sexual health services and advice for young people under 25, including free and confidential sexual health information, contraception, pregnancy testing, advice and counselling, testing and treatment for sexually transmitted infections and outreach and education work.

About the advice service

In 2009/2010 we ran a sexual health advice service which allowed people to get answers to their problems from a panel of experts. The service has now closed, but you can see the questions and answers on this page.

If you have any immediate or urgent concerns about your health, you should contact your GP or use our medical advice now section.

The sexual health advice panel

Peter Greenhouse, consultant in sexual health, Bristol Sexual Health Centre, and secretary of the British Foundation against Sexually Transmitted Infections


Dr Mark Pakianathan, honorary senior lecturer in HIV/genito-urinary medicine and chair of the British Associaition for Sexual Health and HIV media group


Dr Petra Boynton, lecturer in International Health Services Research at a London University and adviser on sexual and relationship health for mansized.co.uk and mykindaplace.


Relate Advisers from the helpline of the national charity supporting family and couples relationships


Brook Rachel Wyartt, manager of the Ask Brook helpline, which offers sexual health advice and services specifically for the under 25s


Terence Higgins Trust Advisers from the leading HIV/AIDS charity's support services

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