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If you attended any public school system in the United States, you were probably exposed to the usual spiel: abstinence is key, don’t have sex- you will get pregnant and die (thank you, Mean Girls), and so on. Our country’s ineffective approach to sex education is evident, but that's a story for a different day.
It’s time to get candid about sexual health.
Sexually Transmitted Infections
We’re all well aware that they exist. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), over 20 million new cases of STIs were reported in 2016 in the United States (1). That being said, STIs like human papillomavirus and herpes simplex virus are not routinely reported to the CDC.
The takeaway: a ton of Americans are still getting STIs- and 20 million might even be underreported data.
Oral Sex & STIs
That’s right- penetrative sex isn’t the only way you can acquire a sexually transmitted infection. According to the American Sexual Health Association, in a 2006-2008 survey, 80% of sexually active people ages 15-44 reported having oral sex with a partner at least once (2). If your partner has an STI in their genital or anal regions, you’re at risk for contracting the STI in your mouth or throat if you perform oral sex. It goes both ways- if your partner has an STI in their mouth or throat, they can spread it to your genitals or anus if they perform oral sex on you. Scary, right?
STIs that can be spread orally:
- Human papillomavirus
- Herpes simplex virus (types 1 and 2)
- Human immunodeficiency virus
Why you may be at risk of contracting herpes
The World Health Organization reports that approximately 67% of the population under the age of 50 has herpes simplex virus type 1 (3). Colloquially? We usually call it cold sores. Herpes simplex virus type 2 is predominately spread through skin to skin- often genital to genital- contact.
Though HSV-1 is primarily spread orally, there are a growing number of genital HSV-1 cases- 140 million, that is (3). If your partner has cold sores and performs oral sex on you, you are immediately at risk of transmitting genital HSV-1. Keep in mind, someone can have HSV-1 without showing any symptoms, thus, they are virtually unaware they are a carrier. If that isn’t frightening enough, there is no cure for HSV-1 or HSV-2. You can, however, prevent or shorten outbreaks with medication (2).
Protected oral sex:
Yes, that’s a thing- and it’s called the barrier method. When performing fellatio, one should use non-lubricated condoms. Dental dams can be used between the mouth and vagina, or anus, during oral sex. These are polyurethane or latex sheets, and a condom cut open into a square can serve same purpose (2).
*Remember: all sexual or intimate acts must be 100%, explicitly consensual from all participants. Anything else can be categorized as sexual assault or rape which is punishable by law. For more information, refer to the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN).