Medically Reviewed by Dr Danae Maragouthakis
Is oral sex safer than sexual intercourse? If you've read some of our previous articles, you'll know the answer is not necessarily. Yet many people continue to think of oral sex as a safer alternative to intercourse. The truth is that even during oral, the risk of picking up or passing on a sexually transmitted infection (STI) can be high unless precautions are taken.
Fortunately, practicing safe oral sex is not difficult! But just like any other type of sex, it involves open communication with your partner(s) and always being prepared.
This article outlines the STI risks associated with oral sex and how to minimize them through safer oral sex practices.
Barrier methods are commonly used during intercourse. But did you know they should also be used during oral sex? It's true! And the best part is that you have multiple options to choose from.
For oral sex, consider these barrier methods:
If you or your partner(s) have a latex allergy, consider barrier methods made from alternative materials, like polyisoprene or polyurethane.
Even when using protection, regularly check for sores, blisters, wounds, warts, or rashes – basically, anything that compromises the integrity of the skin. If present, it's best to avoid those areas during sex. Not only can they be signs of an STI, but when skin is compromised and exposed to bodily fluids, there is an increased risk of any infection (including STIs).
An easy way to remember this is to "look before you lick."
It's important to know the sexual history of your partners. Of course, this isn't always an easy topic to bring up, but taking control of your own health includes having an open dialogue. Talking about past partners, STI history, recent STI test results, and drug use can help you decide if you're comfortable enough to proceed.
Remember, oral sex is not a lesser act than penetration. If there's something you'd want to know before having sexual intercourse with someone, then it's also something you should know before oral sex.
Understand the STI Risks During Oral Sex
Some STIs are not visible and can still exist in people who show no signs or symptoms! While practicing safe oral sex can certainly minimize the risk of picking up or passing on an STI, it does not eliminate it altogether.
If you are unsure whether you or your partner(s) may have an STI, it's best to get tested before engaging in any kind of sex.
Sex with an infected partner can lead to STIs in the eyes, mouth, throat, genitals, or rectum, depending on the type of activity. STIs commonly transmitted during oral sex include:
Symptoms and Signs to Look For
STIs often present with nonspecific symptoms or no symptoms at all, making them easy to miss! That's why regular testing and good communication are essential!
Oral STI symptoms include:
When to Get Tested
Whether it's a one-time thing or you've been having sex with someone for a while, it's considered good practice to get tested for STIs regularly. Professional organisations advise that sexually active adults get screened yearly, with some people requiring testing every 3 – 6 months, depending on their level of activity.
Talking about testing isn’t always easy - but having these discussions early and often could help avoid lots of issues later on!
If you're unsure of how to start the conversation, try one (or all) of these:
1. Ask questions
Sometimes it’s best to be straightforward. Just ask, "When did you last get an STI test?" It's not an accusation, but a segue into an open and honest conversation. However, if your partner becomes frustrated or refuses to tell you - it may be a sign that you're not going to like the answer - which, in itself, is an answer. You should never feel ashamed or embarrassed to ask questions before having sex with someone. You have a right to know.
2. Share your own history first
For some, it's easier to share information about themselves if their partner(s) volunteer the information first. Lead by opening up about your history, then invite your partner(s) to do the same.
3. See something, say something
Not all STIs cause visible signs, but some do. If you notice any redness, rashes, warts, ulcers, blisters, or unusual discharge, invite your partner(s) to discuss them. Stay supportive but encourage them to get checked before engaging in any sexual activity.
While you and your partner(s) should ideally be tested for STIs before having sex, it's never too late. It can take days, weeks, months, or even years before symptoms or signs of an STI appear. And remember, many STIs have no symptoms at all!
So if you haven't been tested in a while, consider grabbing yourself an STI test .
To engage in safer oral sex, here's what we recommend:
"Look before you lick"
- Always use protection
- Have open communication
- Know which STIs can be transmitted through oral sex, as well as their symptoms
- Get tested regularly
Just remember, no matter what type of sex you’re having, practicing safe sex means better sex for everyone.
For more information about sexual health or to purchase an STI test, visit https://yoxly.com/.
Yoxly is on a mission to normalise, destigmatise, and simplify sexual health by supporting education, improving access to services, and empowering individuals to take a proactive approach.