STDs and oral sex: How sexually transmitted diseases can spread

STDs can spread via oral sex. Because of this, you are at risk of contracting STDs in your mouth, genitals, and throat if you have oral sex with an infected partner.

Can you get stds from oral sex

STDs stands for sexually transmitted diseases, while STIs stands for sexually transmitted infections. 

While both terms are health conditions contracted via sex, the difference between an STI and an STD lies in the fact that the former is an infection while the latter has developed into a disease. 

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 1 in 5 people have a sexually transmitted infection. 

The World Health Organisation reported that more than 30 different viruses, bacteria and parasites are transmitted via sexual contact, and more than 1 million STIs are acquired globally every day.

What is oral sex?

Oral sex involves the stimulation of the genitals using the mouth and the tongue. There are different types of oral sex, namely- cunnilingus (stimulating the female genitalia with the tongue and lips), analingus (oral contact with the anus) and fellatio (stimulating the penis with the tongue and lips). 

These oral sex practises can transmit oral, genital and respiratory infections from one part of the body to another. They are one of the ways that sexually transmitted infections are passed from one person to another. 

You can get a sexually transmitted infection if you have only one partner (particularly if you are not the only one your partner is having sex with). However, your risk of contracting an STI increases if you have multiple partners.

STIs and STDs that are commonly transmitted via oral sex

Many STDs and STIs can be spread through oral sex depending on factors like the number of sex acts performed, the particular STI a sex partner is infected with, and the type of sex the individuals are involved in.

Some common STIs and STDs that can be transmitted through oral sex include:

  • Gonorrhoea: 

Gonorrhoea is a contagious bacterial infection that spreads via sexual contact with the anus, vagina, mouth and penis. 

Symptoms of gonorrhoea include discharge from the penis, pain during urination, and bleeding between periods. However, most cases of gonorrhoea are asymptomatic. 

It is best to treat gonorrhoea immediately because gonorrhoea can cause serious health complications if left untreated.

  • Syphilis

Syphilis is a bacterial infection that spreads just like gonorrhoea. It can also spread when a person’s skin comes in contact with syphilis sores during sex. Syphilis sores may even be small or unnoticeable which is the more reason why people need to get tested to be sure they are STD-free. 

Syphilis can appear as small blister sores that develop into rashes later. If left untreated, syphilis can harm mucous membranes and affect vital organs like the heart and brain.

  • Human papillomavirus (HPV)

Unlike syphilis and gonorrhoea, human papillomavirus is a viral infection. This infection is transmitted via skin to skin contact and often during sexual intercourse. According to the CDC, HPV is the most commonly transmitted sexual infection in the United States. 

There are more than 100 varieties of HPV, and more than 40 of them can be transmitted via sexual contact and can affect the mouth, genitals or throat. HPV infections often don’t cause noticeable symptoms. 

But, while not all types of HPV are threatening to health, some types can cause genital warts and even cancers of the cervix and throat. There are different tests and treatments available for HPV. 

Every sexually active person is at risk of contracting this infection. Hence, testing for HPV is recommended particularly for women because they are at risk of developing cervical, anal and vaginal cancers as a result of HPV infection. 

  • Genital Herpes

Genital herpes is also a viral infection typically transmitted via sexual contact with a person that has herpes. Genital herpes appears like blister-like sores around the genitalia and is highly contagious. 

The sores easily spread to the buttocks and thighs and may affect the lips, tongue and mouth. This shows that herpes can be easily spread via oral sex. Note that there are also cases where herpes shows no symptoms. In such a case, you may not know a person has it unless tested. 

There is no cure for herpes. However, there are medications that can help manage the condition.

  • Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV)

HIV is a viral infection contracted when a person's bloodstream comes in contact with the body fluids of an infected person. 

HIV usually doesn't cause symptoms in its early stage; however, with time, it weakens the immune system causing the affected person's body to be vulnerable to attack by other infectious agents. If left untreated, HIV can lead to AIDS (acquired immunodeficiency syndrome). 

Currently, there is no effective cure for HIV. However, some treatments can help manage the condition. People with HIV can still live a vibrant life, provided they take their medications and adopt healthy lifestyles. 

  • Chlamydia

Chlamydia infects a person after having oral, vaginal, penile or anal contact with a person infected with chlamydia. 

Chlamydia is usually asymptomatic. However, there are cases where people infected with it have symptoms like genital burning or itching accompanied by pain when urinating.

Things to know about STDs and oral sex

Here are some facts about sexually transmitted diseases and oral sex you need to know about:

  • STDs can infect yoir genital areas if you received oral sex from a person with a throat or mouth infection
  • STDs can infect your mouth or throat if you give oral sex to a person with an anal/rectal or genital STD
  • It is possible to get an STD in different areas of the body, e.g., the genitals and the mouth, at the same time
  • STDs transmitted via oral sex can spread in the body
  • Some STDs are asymptomatic (i.e., they don’t show symptoms), and you can transmit them unknowingly to your partner during oral sex
  • Hepatitis A and B can be transmitted via anilingus (oral sex involving the anus). 

How to prevent contracting sexually transmitted infections

Giving your children sex education and launching STD awareness campaigns can help prevent more people from contracting sexually transmitted infections

Abstinence is the only sure way to avoid getting sexually transmitted diseases. However, if you are sexually active, there are things you can do to drastically reduce your chances of contracting STDs.

Some measures to take to prevent STIs and STDs include:

  • Doing regular tests for STDs and asking your partner to do the same
  • Being in a committed monogamous relationship with a person that has been screened for STDs
  • Use barrier methods like dental dams and condoms that protect against sexually transmitted diseases
  • Treating STIs as soon as you notice them to avoid infecting another person
  • Avoiding sex with a person that has obvious signs of STDs such as genital warts, rashes, bumps or sores around the genital area

If you are sexually active, consider talking to your doctor about the risks of having oral sex with a person that has not tested for STDs. Also, it might help to keep open communication with your partner and share reliable medical information.

References

  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2021). 1 in 5 people in the US have a sexually transmitted infection
  2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2022). Genital HPV infection - Fact sheet.
  3. World Health Organisation. (2021). Sexually transmitted infections (STIs).