Medically reviewed by Neka Miller, PhD on February 15, 2021. To give you technically accurate, evidence-based information, content published on the Everlywell blog is reviewed by credentialed professionals with expertise in medical and bioscience fields.
Though many people associate STDs with sexual contact occurring through genital or anal sex, did you know that some STDs can spread via oral sex? Understanding how STDs can spread can help you be more informed about risks and what you can do about them—so you can have a healthy, enjoyable sex life. Read on to learn what STDs can be transmitted through oral sex, tips for prevention, and more.
There are many different kinds of STDs (also referred to as STIs), but they all involve infectious microbes (bacteria, viruses, or parasites) that can spread through sexual contact, often through bodily fluids associated with sex. This includes semen, pre-ejaculatory fluid, and vaginal fluid. Many STDs can also be transmitted through blood, and a few can spread through simple skin-to-skin contact with an infected area.
Oral sex refers to using the mouth to physically stimulate the genitals or anus of one’s sexual partner. Oral sex is fairly common among sexually active individuals. According to the CDC, over 85% of sexually active adults in the United States in the 18-44 age range report having had oral sex with a partner of the opposite sex at least once.
The risk of getting or transmitting an STD through oral sex is generally lower compared to vaginal or anal sex, though it is still very much a possibility and a risk to be aware of. STDs transmitted via oral sex can infect one’s lips, mouth, throat, genitals, or anus.
Here are some of the most common STDs that can be transmitted through oral sex.
Chlamydia is a sexually transmitted infection caused by the bacterium Chlamydia trachomatis. While the infection can occur in sexually active men and women across age groups, it more often affects women. Chlamydia is one of the most common STIs, in part because it often comes with no noticeable symptoms. Even when signs do occur, they are frequently mild or easily mistaken for other health issues.
Some of the most common symptoms of chlamydia include:
Chlamydia can infect the genitals, anal region, and mouth. In rare cases, chlamydia can also infect the eye if it makes contact with infected fluids. Chlamydia can also infect a baby during birth if the mother has it.
Gonorrhea is another infection caused by bacteria. It, too, can occur with no noticeable symptoms in its early stages. Symptoms typically affect the genitals, but other parts of the body can also experience symptoms. Vaginal symptoms generally include:
Gonorrhea is slightly more likely to affect men than women. Symptoms can occur within a week after initial transmission. Common penile symptoms include:
Left untreated, gonorrhea can pose serious health issues and may even cause fertility problems.
When it infects the throat, gonorrhea can present as a simple sore throat. Anal gonorrhea usually does not present with any symptoms, but in some cases itchiness, discharge, or pain when passing stool may develop.
Check for Chlamydia & Gonorrhea from the privacy of home with the at-home Chlamydia & Gonorrhea Test.
Herpes is caused by the herpes virus, of which there are two types: herpes simplex virus type 1 (HSV-1) and herpes simplex virus type 2 (HSV-2). While they are both capable of infecting the genitals, anus, rectum, lips, mouth, and throat, HSV-1 more typically causes oral herpes while HSV-2 is most commonly associated with genital herpes.
Herpes is one of the most common STIs. In the United States, it’s estimated that nearly half of people who are aged 14-49 have HSV-1, while approximately 1 in 8 have HSV-2. Herpes can spread through skin-to-skin contact with an infected area. There is also no known cure for herpes, though medicine can help you manage herpes outbreaks and prevent further spread.
Related: Are Any STDs Not Curable?
While herpes may not always present with symptoms, the most common symptom is itchy, painful blisters on the affected area. These blisters can burst and turn into sores. Symptoms of genital herpes include:
Oral herpes also causes sores or blisters, usually around the lips. These are referred to as cold sores or fever blisters. Sores can also appear inside your mouth, though this only happens in the early stages of the infection. While a cold sore can be painful or uncomfortable, they are mostly harmless.
Syphilis is a bacterial infection that commonly spreads via skin-to-skin contact with a chancre, a type of sore that is characteristic of syphilis in its first stage. Chancres can appear firm and round or open and wet, but they are usually painless. They show up at the site of infection, though this sometimes means they are hidden within the genitals or rectum of an infected partner. In some cases, chancres can be mistaken for ingrown hairs, pimples, or simple blemishes.
In its second stage, syphilis can progress to a rash affecting the palms of the hands and soles of the feet. You may also experience flu-like symptoms and the formation of more chancre sores. If left untreated, syphilis can progress to a more severe stage of the infection, potentially contributing to blindness, tumors, and paralysis—among other possible consequences.
(You can check for syphilis from home with the Everlywell at-home Syphilis Test. The kit comes with everything you need to conveniently collect a sample at home and send it to a lab for testing using the prepaid shipping label that’s included.)
Kissing is a generally low-risk activity compared to vaginal or anal intercourse or oral sex. However, it is possible to spread herpes or syphilis through kissing if you have blisters or sores on your lips or inside your mouth. While that does not mean you should completely refrain from kissing your sex partner, it does mean that it’s best to exercise some caution during outbreaks and be sure your partner is aware of any sores or blisters you are experiencing.
To prevent the oral transmission of STDs and STIs, it’s best to practice safe sex by using protection. Using a latex condom or dental dam during oral sex prevents the transfer of fluids or microbes.
Along with practicing safe sex, get tested regularly for STDs, especially if you have multiple sexual partners. Routine STD testing is an effective way to find out if you have an infection sooner rather than later, allowing you to get the proper treatment and preventing the infection from spreading to others.
To check in on your status from the comfort and privacy of your home, consider our at-home STD testing options. Our STD test for men and STD test for women lets you easily check for 6 common STDs: chlamydia, gonorrhea, hepatitis C, HIV, syphilis, and trichomoniasis.
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