Can I get HIV from oral sex?
Oral sex is an increasingly common practice among Jamaican couples, including teenagers, who often believe this is a completely safe alternative to penetrative intercourse. However, have we ever really thought about the role this immensely pleasurable act can play in the transmission of infectious diseases such as HIV, herpes, syphilis, gonorrhea, and so on? Or how poor oral health can actually increase the possibility of disease transmission?
The mouth acts as an entry point to numerous diseases and infections that can affect the overall health of a person. Studies have shown that the oral cavity has the potential to harbor at least 600 different bacterial species, and in any given patient, more than 150 species may be present.
One might ask, 'How could poor oral health possibly increase the risk of disease spread by engaging in oral sex?'
Well, oral sex involves the giving or receiving of sexual stimulation using the mouth on the penis (fellatio), vagina (cunnilingus) or anus (analingus). Though the likelihood of passing on sexually transmitted infections such as HIV is much lower through oral sex than penetrative intercourse, there is still some risk, as saliva, semen, vaginal fluids and menstrual blood can get into the mouth.
These diseases/infections can spread from the mouth to the blood stream via sores, cuts, bruises or bleeding gums (seen in periodontal disease, for example, gingivitis and periodontitis).
Other diseases/infections which may be transmitted through oral sex include gonorrhea, syphilis, chlamydia, herpes, the human papilloma virus (HPV), with herpes being the most common and most infectious.
- GONORRHEA is mainly transmitted through fellatio. Symptoms include sore throat, burning sensation and discharge from the penis and may result in infertility in women.
- SYPHILIS can be transmitted through all modes of oral sex, and is easily transmitted through contact with open sores on the penis, anus or mouth.
- CHLAMYDIA can be passed on via fellatio, cunnilingus or analingus. It usually affects women more than men. Common features include pain while urinating, smelly vaginal or penile discharge, spotting after intercourse.
- HERPES can be passed on through all forms of oral sex. There are two types: type one affects mainly the lip, causing cold sores and type two causes blisters on the genitals. Outbreaks present as painful sores and blisters. These lesions are very infectious.
- HPV can be transmitted through fellatio, cunnilingus and analingus. Though most forms only cause warts, some strains may cause oral and throat cancer.
- CAVITIES have been shown to act as reservoirs for Candida organisms, which may potentially cause fungal infections in susceptible individuals.
Useful tips in the prevention of disease transmission during oral sex, according to the Journal of Infectious Diseases, include:
- Using barriers, such as flavored condoms, dental dam, or even cling wrap;
- Avoiding oral sex if any partner has a sexually transmitted disease or infection, bleeding gums, open wounds or sores on the mouth or genitals
- Avoiding oral sex with a woman during her period;
- Limiting the number of sexual partners
- Washing and cleaning genitals and surrounding areas thoroughly;
- Having oral sex at least thirty minutes after brushing or flossing;
- Avoiding oral sex after recent dental treatment; and
- Getting regular dental and medical checkups.
Though a seemingly unrelated pair, good oral health, coupled with safe sexual practices, can go a far way in improving the overal health, safety and wellness of any individual.