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Oral sex and STIs - what you need to know

A close up of a woman's mouth wearing bright orange lipstick, smiling coyly and biting one lip.
Think you can't get STIs if you're not having penetrative sex? Think again - some STIs can be transmitted through oral sex.

So you know about using condoms to prevent pregnancy and contracting STIs during sexual intercourse, but what about using protection during oral sex?

Oral sex is any type of sexual activity where a person’s mouth, lips or tongue comes into contact with another person’s genitals or anus. Unlike sexual intercourse, pregnancy can’t result from having oral sex, but you should still use protection. Why? Some of the most common STIs in Queensland can be passed on through oral sex, and contracting them can have nasty consequences for you, an unborn child if you’re pregnant and your sexual partners, if you don’t get treated.

What STIs can I get from oral sex? Are they really that bad?

While the risk of contracting most STIs from oral sex is lower than for vaginal or anal sex, there is still the risk of transmission. STIs like chlamydia, herpes, gonorrhoea, syphilis and HPV can all be transmitted orally, meaning they can pass from one person’s mouth to their partner’s genitals or anus, or vice versa.

Some of these, like chlamydia, won’t always present symptoms straight away, but can cause ongoing health and fertility issues. Others, like herpes, can’t currently be cured, and will require lifelong, ongoing treatment.

HPV, or human papillomavirus, is well known for causing the development of abnormal cells that can lead to cervical cancer, but can also cause mouth and throat cancer.

How can I protect myself from STIs during oral sex?

Condoms and dental dams can be used to protect all parties involved in oral sex. Condoms should be placed completely covering the penis. Condoms need to be thrown away after each use and changed between having oral sex and penetrative sex.

Dental dams can be used to cover the vulva and vagina or anus. Dental dams can be purchased, or made by cutting the tip and the ring off a regular condom, then cutting the condom open and laying it flat. Don’t create dental dams out of condoms which use spermicide, as this shouldn’t be ingested. Dental dams should also be used only once then thrown away.

A photographic diagram showing the steps of creating a dental dam out of a condom: Step 1 - get a condom without spermicide. Step 2 - cut of the tip at the closed end. Step 3 - cut off the ring at the other end. Step 4 - cut the condom open up the middle. Step 5 - lay the condom flat and use as a dental dam.

There are other steps you can take to protect yourself from STIs during oral sex, including:

  • not having oral sex if you have cuts or sores in or near your mouth, have a sore throat, or a mouth or throat infection
  • not having sex (even with a condom) if your partner has a visible sore, ulcer or lump on their genitals, anal area or mouth
  • for men: ejaculate outside of your partner’s mouth
  • avoid brushing or flossing teeth right before oral sex.

What should I do if I think I have an STI from giving or receiving oral sex?

If you are sexually active, you should have a sexual health check at least every year regardless of whether or not you have any STI symptoms. You can request this from your doctor, Aboriginal Medical Services, some community-based testing sites or visit a sexual health clinic. You can also order a free chlamydia test kit online.

If you think you may have contracted an STI from having oral sex, have any symptoms of STIs on your genitals, anus, mouth or throat, or are worried after having unprotected oral sex, book in for a sexual health check immediately. Once you know whether or not you have an STI, you can begin treatment if necessary.

If you have contracted an STI, you should tell any current and past sexual partners, so that they can be checked as well. This can certainly be a scary conversation to have with a partner but it’s an important one to help protect them and any of their future partners. You can do this yourself, or use services like Let Them Know, The Drama Down Under or Better to Know to pass on the information anonymously. Talk to your doctor about who you need to tell and how to tell them, or read the Queensland Government guidelines on contact tracing.

More information about sexual health

It’s important that all people who are sexually active, or thinking about becoming sexually active, are aware of their sexual health and how to take care of it. You can find more information about sexual health at the links below.

Let’s talk about sex, baby! Your ultimate guide to sexual health

Queensland Government: Sexual health

Last updated: 13 February 2018