The last thing anyone wants is for their partner’s penis or vagina to catch a cold (that would be bad). It’s natural for us to worry about getting them sick when we’ve come down with the flu or any other type of infection, like strep throat or an STI. So, how possible is it for us to pass an infection to our partner by giving them oral sex?
First, let’s take a step back.
The last thing you want is to worry yourself or your partner. Whether it’s fish or beef on the menus, transmitting any kind of infection is a two-way street. Just as you can get an infection from going down on them (if they have contracted a virus), they can also get an infection from you (if you have contracted a virus).
So rather than playing the blame game of “who gave me what,” it’s best to understand that sex health practices go both ways. All we have to do is have an open line of communication. Trust me, these pesky viruses don’t discriminate.
Now, in the case of minor sore throats caused by the common cold or flu, chances are you don’t need to rid yourself with guilt. Most germs that cause the common cold or flu enter one’s body through the nose or mouth. If your partner catches your cold, it’s probably not because you went down on their penis or vagina. Chances are, it was passed by kissing, touching or holding them close to you during sexual activity.
But what about STIs like gonorrhea, Chlamydia, herpes, syphilis, HIV, and hepatitis A or B or C? Great question!
Chlamydia — Being the most common STI in the U.S. (nearly 1.5 million cases reported each year), most people do not experience symptoms so it’s hard to know when you have it unless you’re getting tested regularly. Like all other STIs, Chlamydia is passed from an infected person to a partner through sexual activities, but it is way less likely to be transmitted through oral sex.
Chlamydia is passed when the mucous membrane (that soft little piece of skin covering all openings) comes into contact with secretions of semen or vaginal fluids. Because the bacteria that causes Chlamydia prefers to target genital areas rather than our throats, it is less likely to pass it on during oral sex, much less have it be transmitted from a “giver.”
Transmission is not known to occur from mouth-to-vagina or mouth-to-anus, however it is still possible to transfer from penis-to-mouth or vagina-to-mouth (though unlikely).
Gonorrhea — This STI can be passed through oral sex, whether you’re the “receiver” or the “giver.” And whenever it does pass from someone who is giving oral sex, it’s usually because the vagina, cervix, anus, penis or mouth come into contact with an infected person’s secretions. And unfortunately, gonorrhea is known to live in the throat and eyelids from time to time.
The bacteria causing gonorrhea often sets up shop in the throat and the lining of the eyelid, which can lead to eye infection and discharge from the eye itself (hand-to-eye contact during sex is also another way for it to pass). It also lives on the surfaces of the urethra, vagina, cervix, endometrium, fallopian tubes, anus, and rectum.
Hepatitis A, B, C — Transmission of hep A, B, or C through oral sex is wishy washy, whether you’re receiving or giving, however if the “giver” has bloody gums or fresh mouth piercings, the risk is magnified due to the possible transfer of blood from the mouth-to-genitals during the session. All forms of hepatitis are transmitted through direct contact with blood, semen, or vaginal secretions.
In the case of hep B, there are rare cases for the virus to be transferred by saliva through biting — not by kissing.
In the case of hep A, the virus is transmitted mainly through oral contact with feces. Oral-to-fecal contact, i.e. rimming or tossing a salad, is one of the biggest culprits. Because feces is a major carrier, it can also be transferred through contaminated food or water, and is also spread in daycares.
So to look at the bigger picture, it is possible for fecal matter to transfer from a “giver” if, say, they kiss you after they’ve had contact with bits of someone’s hep A-contaminated fecal matter. By the way, an estimated 125,000 to 200,000 people are infected with hep A each year in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
As for hep C, it is mainly transmitted by direct contact with blood by sharing needles, which is the most common risk factor to date. While hep C can be spread by vagina or anal sex, it doesn’t happen very often. So needless to say, catching it from your partner who’s giving you oral sex is also rare, unless (like I said above) they have fresh piercings or bloody gums.
Herpes & genital warts — This is by far the most easily transmitted STIs because your partner doesn’t necessarily need to have an outbreak for them to pass it onto you. Research suggests that 80 percent of people carry the herpes virus (cold sores), and 50 percent of sexually active people have genital warts cause by the human papilloma virus.
According to the CDC, one out of every six people between 14 and 49 years old have genital herpes. It can be spread during vaginal or anal sex, by sharing sex toys, and yes, oral sex. Now, because it’s spread through skin contact, it can also be spread through kissing. Basically your only defense is a good offense. Make sure you wrap up with some strong latex before placing your skin on someone else’s, and always remember to get tested and know your status.
HIV — The short answer is that it’s highly unlikely, but not impossible. Believe it or not, HIV is not the easiest virus to get. It’s passed through blood, semen, pre-seminal fluid (or pre-cum), rectal/vaginal fluids, and breast milk. In order for it to transmit to another person it needs to be fed into their bloodstream. The main ways it does that is through mucous membranes, needles, or blood transfusions.
Nonetheless there are plenty of things you can do to help lower the risk if you're still nervous. For example:
When giving oral sex, always spit or swallow ejaculate. Do not let it sit in your mouth for long periods of time, as it might make its way through open sores or damaged tissue in the mouth. Swallowing is perfectly safe, according to San Francisco AIDS Foundation. Once semen makes its way past the mouth, stomach acid and enzymes in the esophagus kill any HIV in it, so swallowing is actually one of the safest things to do after a blow job.
When receiving oral sex, it can benefit both of you not to jab with such force that it tears delicate tissue around a penis, vagina, or inside your partner’s mouth, thus creating a wider opportunity for fluids to seep through. Be sure to double check your penis (around the head especially) or vagina to be sure there aren’t any tears.
Syphilis — A curable bacterial infection, this kind of bacteria enters the body through mucous membranes or abraded (torn/cut) skin. Once inside, syphilis enters the blood stream and latches onto the cells, which damages the organs over time if left untreated.
Now, because you can contract syphilis when your mouth, genitals, or another part of your body touches a syphilis sore on a person who has the disease, it is very possible to get it through receiving oral sex. According to the CDC, syphilis sores can be in the mouth as well as on the genitals. Whether you’re giving or receiving, exposure is always possible even if you can’t see a sore.