Can you get an STI from oral sex?

Q: Can I get a sexually-transmitted infection (STI) from performing oral sex?

A: The bullet answer – Yes.  The bullet points: 

  • The rate of genital-oral transmission is generally much lower than for unprotected vaginal or anal sex for all STIs.
  • One big risk from unprotected oral sex is herpes, which causes recurrent painful sores around the lips or genitals. Many people have oral herpes, or “cold sores”, which frequently and inconveniently appear at times of stress or illness. Genital lesions are often more painful and arguably more inconvenient. Risk of infection is greatest when the partner has visible lesions, but transmission can occur even when no lesions are visible. (Ouch.) There is no cure for herpes, but there is medication available to suppress outbreaks and decrease asymptomatic viral shedding.
  • HPV and HIV are also orally-transmitted viruses. HPV commonly causes genital warts and cervical cancer, but can also cause vocal cord polyps. HIV is the virus that causes AIDS. It can theoretically be transmitted through oral sex if there are cuts or scrapes in the mouth.
  • Chlamydia and gonorrhea can cause throat and eye infections. Syphilis can cause painless sores (chancres) that are easy to miss but bad to have. All three can be eradicated with antibiotics.
  • There are a couple of ways to protect yourself and your partner from oral STIs. First, be open and ask questions. While talking about a chancre might be a buzz kill, it might keep you from getting (or giving) “a gift that keeps on giving.”
  • Consider seriously using protection. Dental dams and condoms can be used to decrease risk (but don’t use spermacide-I’ve heard it can kill taste buds). They aren’t absolutely bulletproof, though. If you or your partner have active, oozing lesions just hold hands. Then wash them.
  • If you have questions or would like more information please schedule an appointment with your provider at the Student Health Center.  

Adam Brandeberry, Med IV (OSU COM)

Victoria Rentel, MD (OSU SHS)