Among the many things to love about oral sex, there’s no need to worry that it will result in pregnancy. But many people don’t realize that oral sex carries another risk: sexually transmitted infections (STIs). Most talk about STIs focuses on genital-to-genital action, but many of the bacteria and viruses responsible for genital infections can spread to the mouth from the genitals or anus, and vice versa.
The chance of getting an STI from oral sex isn’t an outlier. Scientists estimate that 85.4% of men and 83.2% of women perform oral sex at some point during their lives, and 1 million new STIs are acquired from sexual acts every day. Below are some of the most common STIs you can catch when you give oral sex to your partner and how you can take steps to prevent them.
About 78 million people worldwide experience a gonorrhea infection each year, and some of those are throat infections. It’s possible to contract gonorrhea in the throat from performing oral sex, but since there are few (if any) symptoms, people don’t necessarily know they’re infected. When a gonorrhea infection in the throat does cause symptoms they can include a sore throat, swollen lymph nodes, or a fever (all things that can mimic other other types of infection).
The best way to protect yourself from an oral gonorrhea infection? Use a condom or a dental dam during oral sex, and get tested regularly. Two of the Nurx STI Home Test Kits — The Full Control Kit and the Healthy Woman Kit — include throat swabs that check for gonorrhea.
Gonorrhea is completely curable with antibiotics, though some strains are beginning to become resistant to these drugs. If you or a partner is diagnosed with gonorrhea it’s important that the other partner get tested too, and treated if necessary, so you don’t re-infect each other. (Want to learn more? Read All About STIs: Gonorrhea)
The World Health Organization estimates that there are 131 million new cases of chlamydia each year worldwide, making it an extremely common STI.
If you contract chlamydia from oral sex, it’s possible that you won’t have any symptoms, or will simply have a sore or dry throat, which is obviously easy to mistake for other types of infections. You can test yourself for a chlamydia infection in your throat using a simple swab test included in the Full Control Kit or Healthy Woman Kit. Chlamydia infections can be easily treated with antibiotics, such as doxycycline and azithromycin, that will stop the infection and prevent you from spreading it to others. (To learn more, read All About STIs: Chlamydia).
Syphilis is a more serious STI, because it can cause some lasting health problems if it goes untreated. Although it isn’t as common as some of the other STIs, syphilis is on the rise — up 76% in the US since 2013. If you contract syphilis from oral sex, you might see sores on the throat or mouth, and since syphilis is systemic, meaning an infection in one part of your body could spread to other parts of your body (unlike chlamydia and gonorrhea, which stay localized) you might experience a rash on your hands or feet. A blood test can detect a syphilis infection anywhere in your body, and syphilis tests are included in all three of the Nurx STI Home Test Kits. (To learn more read the post All About STIs: Syphilis)
Herpes Simplex Virus
Scientists believe that 500 million people across the globe have a genital infection from a herpes virus, and genital herpes can be passed to the mouth of a partner performing oral sex, and an oral herpes infection can be passed to a partner’s genitals. If you contract herpes from performing oral sex you may see blisters or sores around your mouth, though it’s possible to be infected and not have symptoms, or not experience symptoms for years at a time. Although herpes isn’t curable, the virus is very manageable with medication.
Human Papillomavirus (HPV)
HPV is an extremely common STI, as it currently affects 80 million Americans. In fact, 80% of sexually active people will develop it at some point in their lives. While HPV doesn’t always cause symptoms, certain strains of the virus can lead to cervical, throat, mouth, or rectal cancer. HPV is responsible for an estimated 34,000 new cancer diagnoses every year.
If you catch HPV in your throat from oral sex, it’s unlikely you’ll notice symptoms but you might notice small bumps around the mouth or throat, or changes in your voice. People aren’t routinely screened for oral HPV, but the HPV vaccine offers protection.
Testing for Oral STIs
Because many STIs aren’t symptomatic, you or your partners could have one and pass it to each other without knowing it. That’s why getting tested for STIs is essential, even if you’re “just” having oral sex. It can help protect you as well as your sexual partners. Luckily, testing is easier than ever thanks to the Nurx STI Home Test Kits. You can find out whether you have one of the most common STIs without leaving your home. The peace of mind you get knowing you and your partner are healthy will make your oral sex even better.
This blog provides information about telemedicine, health and related subjects. The blog content and any linked materials herein are not intended to be, and should not be construed as a substitute for, medical or healthcare advice, diagnosis or treatment. Any reader or person with a medical concern should consult with an appropriately-licensed physician or other healthcare provider. This blog is provided purely for informational purposes. The views expressed herein are not sponsored by and do not represent the opinions of Nurx™.