STDs of the Mouth and How to Avoid Them

Sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) are contracted through various forms of sexual activity. Oral sex, according to AVERT, is common to sexually active adults of all ages and orientations. This can result in the disease taking hold in the tissues surrounding the contact area, and some infections are more likely to affect the mouth than others.

The most common STDs of the mouth are herpes, chlamydia, gonorrhea and syphilis. Keep in mind it’s also possible to contract illnesses such as Hepatitis A, B and C, as well as other gastrointestinal infections.

Method of Transmission

The main method of transmitting STDs of the mouth is through contact with bodily fluids. In most cases, the presence of oral sores causes fluids from an infected partner’s genitals to enter the body, and a localized infection develops. Diseases can also be transmitted from the mouth of an infected person to the genitals of his or her partner.

Symptoms to Look For

Symptoms depend on the type of STD contracted. Oral gonorrhea, as described by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), is also called pharyngeal gonorrhea because it typically affects the pharynx.

Symptoms that could indicate an oral STD include:

  • Sores in the mouth, which may be painless.
  • Lesions similar to cold sores and fever blisters around the mouth.
  • Red, painful throat and difficulty swallowing.
  • Tonsillitis.
  • Redness with white spots resembling strep throat.
  • Whitish or yellow discharge.

Often, an oral STD doesn’t produce any noticeable symptoms, according to Brown University’s Student Health Services. So it’s important to be aware of both your own oral health and that of your partner as best you can.

Treatment for Oral STDs

Your form of treatment will differ depending on the type of STD you have and its severity. Mild oral herpes, for example, can be treated through the prescription of a topical anesthetic to reduce the pain from oral blisters and lesions while the immune system works to restore your oral health. In more severe cases, however, anti-viral medications can help to speed up the process. A solution such as Colgate Peroxyl Mouth Sore Rinse is recommended by dental professionals to cleanse and soothe canker sores, denture and mouth irritations.

Oral gonorrhea is usually treated with a range of antibiotics called cephalosporins; however, the emergence of drug-resistant strains is causing concern among medical practitioners, so it’s important for patients to follow treatment instructions very diligently. Syphilis is most commonly treated with penicillin, suggests Mayo Clinic, whereas oral chlamydia is treated with antibiotics such as azithromycin or doxycycline, according to the CDC.


If you’ve had any of these STDs of the mouth in the past and received treatment for them, it’s possible for you to contract the same or a different disease again if you have sexual contact with an infected partner. Oral herpes can remain dormant for some time and become active again down the line, particularly in patients who have weakened immune systems.


The only way to prevent yourself from contracting an oral STD is to practice safe sex, including safe oral sex. You should also maintain a high standard of oral hygiene, which reduces your risk for developing any type of sore or infection in the mouth.

In This Section

  • Syphilis
  • What are the symptoms of syphilis?
  • Should I get tested for syphilis?
  • How do I get treated for syphilis?
  • How is syphilis prevented?

Syphilis symptoms can be hard to notice, and come and go over time. So the best way to know if you have syphilis is to get tested.

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You might not notice any signs of syphilis.

Syphilis is sneaky, because you or your partner may not have any symptoms that you see or feel. Most of the time, people don’t even realize they have syphilis — that’s part of the reason it’s a common infection (and why it’s so important to get tested).

The signs of syphilis can be so mild you don’t even notice them. Sometimes people confuse syphilis symptoms with other things, like pimples or rashes. Syphilis symptoms come and go over time, but that doesn’t mean the infection goes away. The ONLY way to get rid of syphilis is to take medicine for it.

Syphilis leads to serious problems if you don’t treat it. But it’s usually easy to cure it with antibiotics when you treat it early. That’s why regular STD testing is so important if you have sex, no matter how healthy you seem.

What are the symptoms of syphilis?

Syphilis can be kind of confusing because there are a few different stages, and they can overlap or happen around the same time. And there may be times when you have no symptoms at all — but the infection will still be there until you get it treated. Symptoms can vary with each stage, and they might not always happen in the same order for everyone.

Primary stage.

A syphilis sore (called a chancre) pops up — that sore is where the syphilis infection entered your body. Chancres are usually firm, round, and painless, or sometimes open and wet. There’s often only 1 sore, but you may have more.

Chancres can show up on your vulva, vagina, anus, penis, scrotum, and rarely, your lips or mouth. The sores may also hide deep in your vagina, under your foreskin, inside your rectum, and other places that are hard to see.

Syphilis sores are SUPER contagious and easily pass the infection to other people during sex. It’s easy to mistake a chancre for an ingrown hair, pimple, or harmless bump. And because the sores aren’t painful and can live in hidden places, you may not notice them.

Chancres typically show up anywhere between 3 weeks and 3 months after you get the infection. The sores usually last about 3 to 6 weeks and then go away on their own — with or without treatment. But if you don’t get treated, you still have syphilis, even if the sores are gone. You have to take medication to cure syphilis and stop it from moving to the next stage.

Secondary stage.

Secondary stage symptoms include rashes on the palms of your hands, soles of your feet, or other parts of your body. The secondary syphilis rash is sometimes hard to see, and it usually doesn’t itch. You may feel sick and have mild flu-like symptoms, like a slight fever, feeling tired, sore throat, swollen glands, headache, and muscle aches. You can also have sores in your mouth, vagina, or anus, and weight or hair loss.

Secondary stage symptoms (syphilis rash) can last 2 to 6 weeks at a time, and may come and go for up to 2 years. They’re similar to other common illnesses, so it can be hard to tell it’s syphilis. The symptoms from this stage will go away by themselves with or without treatment. But unless you get treated for syphilis, you’ll still have the infection in your body and it can move into the dangerous later stages. That’s why STD testing is so important.

Late stage.

In between the secondary stage and the late stage, there may be times when your syphilis infection is latent (there are no signs or symptoms at all) for months or even years — but you still need treatment to get rid of it. People who have had syphilis for a long time face serious health problems. Late stages of syphilis can cause tumors, blindness, and paralysis. It can damage your nervous system, brain and other organs, and may even kill you.

Syphilis is easily curable with antibiotics in the early stages. If you get treatment late, it will still cure the infection and stop future damage to your body. But the damage that late stage syphilis has already caused can’t be changed or healed. The complications from late stage syphilis can happen 10-20 years after you first get infected.

More questions from patients:

What are the syphilis symptoms in men? What about the syphilis symptoms in women?

Syphilis symptoms in men and syphilis symptoms in women are mostly the same. Often, syphilis has no symptoms or has such mild symptoms that you don’t notice them.

There are also several stages of syphilis, which may overlap. The stages may be separated by “latent stages,” meaning times when you don’t have any symptoms at all.

Symptoms vary with each stage.

  • Primary Stage — A painless sore or open, wet ulcer, which is called a chancre, shows up. You may have 1 chancre or a few. Chancres usually appear about 3 weeks after you get infected, but it may take up to 90 days. Without treatment, they last 3 – 6 weeks. Chancres can appear on your genitals, cervix, lips, mouth, breasts, or anus. You may also get swollen glands during the primary phase.

  • Secondary Stage — Other symptoms often appear 3 – 6 weeks after the sores show up. These syphilis symptoms may come and go for up to 2 years. They include body rashes that last 2 – 6 weeks — often on the palms of your hands and the soles of your feet. There are lots of other symptoms, including mild fever, fatigue, sore throat, hair loss, weight loss, swollen glands, headache, and muscle pains.

  • Late Stage — 1 out of 3 people who have syphilis that’s not treated suffer serious damage to their nervous system, heart, brain, or other organs, which can even kill you. This stage can occur 1–20 years after the start of your infection.

If you’re noticed any of these syphilis symptoms, the staff at your local Planned Parenthood health center, many other clinics, health departments, and private doctors can diagnose syphilis and help you get any treatment you may need. But, like many STDs, since not everyone gets symptoms, if you’ve had unprotected vaginal, anal, or oral sex, STD testing is super important.

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Can Dentists Really Tell If You’ve Been Giving Oral Sex?

Dentists know things about us. They know when we’ve been eating shit, they know when we’ve been smoking and they know when we’ve been avoiding going to the dentist because we absolutely know how many fillings we’re going to need and absolutely do not want to get them, so instead just let our teeth erode away, slowly, like the Welsh coastline, inside our faces.

But how much can dentists tell about our actual lives? What can be gleaned? Can they tell if we’ve been doing drugs? A since-deleted viral tweet, posted earlier this week by a woman billing herself as a dental hygienist, claimed that dentists can tell if someone has recently performed oral sex on a man, because a few little red dots pop up at the back of their throat.

This may sound like an urban myth perpetuated by Yahoo Answers, but it does also sound like maybe it could be true? Stranger things have happened. In December, 2012, a monkey was found traversing an IKEA car park wearing a shearling coat. Elon Musk recently launched a Tesla into space just because.

There’s only one way to know for sure. To address these fears, I decided to call a dentist. Actually, my first suggestion was to suck some dick and then go to the dentist and find out for myself, but my editor decided that a phone call would suffice. So, instead, I spoke to Dr Milad Shadrooh, AKA The Singing Dentist, who shot to Good Morning Britain levels of fame for turning bangers into memorable lessons on dental hygiene and uploading them to YouTube, and who kindly took a few minutes to answer my horrible questions about the oral realm.

VICE: Right, so, firstly, there’s a sort of urban myth going around that dentists can tell whether or not a patient has performed oral sex recently. Is that true?
Dr Milad Shadrooh: Wow! I don’t know about that. I’ve never been asked this question before! Never in my life have I been able to tell if a patient has done oral sex. I don’t know any dentist who would, either. What a question to ask .

Apparently it’s something to do with some red dots that show up on the back of your mouth?
I have no idea how… unless they did it literally like two minutes ago in the waiting room, then you might smell it? That’s quite disgusting.

What about kissing? Can you tell if someone has done a lot of kissing? Does kissing affect your oral health?
Well, you’ve got to have good oral health to get a smooch! If you’ve got a grubby mouth, that’s no good. Obviously there’s a transfer of bacteria during kissing, so if someone’s got an unhealthy mouth the bacteria might transfer. But the main thing, I think, with kissing – or any sexual activity with the mouth – is Herpes Simplex Virus; cold sores, basically. If you’ve got an active cold sore and you start kissing people – even before it comes up, during the tingle phase – it’s contagious. So you’ll pass on the cold sore virus to someone and they’ll become a sufferer. Also, if you were to perform any other activities with your mouth then you can actually pass oral herpes onto the downstairs herpes, so that’s something you need to be very careful of. We would always advocate safe sexual practises for oral sex.

When you type in “can a dentist tell if” into Google, the most common searches are “can a dentist tell if you smoke, vape or do cocaine”. Smoking seems like an obvious one, but what about the others?
I haven’t experienced any tell-tale signs of vaping yet, but the jury’s still out on that one. We don’t know too much about vaping because it’s quite new, but there’s new studies coming out that indicate it’s just as bad as smoking, for your mouth, because of the temperatures. The temperatures go up and the capillaries in the mouth still respond the same kind of way as they would if you were smoking. There’s still more research going on, and obviously things take years to happen – you’d need to look at people who have been vaping for the past five years to find out what happened to them after five years, after ten years, and vaping just hasn’t been around that long.

What else can you tell about us from our disgusting mouths?
The stuff that springs out in my mind is grinding. There’s telltale signs in the mouth when a patient has been grinding their teeth, and stress is a number one trigger for grinding. The world is quite a stressful place nowadays, and you can pretty much tell that. There’s food and dietary deficiencies that we can sometimes pick up with the mouth, especially on the tongue. The tongue can have certain appearances that can allude us to certain vitamin deficiencies, potentially iron deficiencies. You can tell if someone has a sweet tooth, because they have a mouth full of holes and fillings.

Thanks, Milad! Sorry!

@emmaggarland /

Are You Giving Oral Sex Wrong? 8 Common Mistakes And How To Fix Them

I once had a friend tell me that she’s never given bad oral sex. When I asked her how she knew for a fact that was true, she said that she went into each and every oral sex session with her partners knowing she was giving the best head they ever had, and that confidence alone meant that there was no way in hell that she was giving oral wrong. Although I took her at her word, because my thinking has always been that it’s kind of hard to completely mess up giving head, her opinion on the topic also made me second guess my own blow job techniques. Am I giving oral wrong? Are you giving oral wrong, too? I guess it depends.

As it is with all components of sexual activity, different people enjoy different things. What one partner might totally get off on, might make another partner cringe and dramatically scream out, “WHY?”. Because this is the case you need to go into each oral sex experience with your eyes and ears open. You need to engage in a bit of dialogue and let your partner guide you so you both enjoy it as much as you possibly can.

But back to the original question: Are you giving oral wrong? Well, probably not entirely, but if you’re doing any of these common mistakes, there may be some areas where you can improve. And the best part is, these mistakes, like listening to your partner and not using your hands, are 100 percent fixable. You can easily improve next time by making some changes. Go get ’em.

1. You’re Using Your Teeth

Ah! Whether you give oral to men or women or both, never use your teeth. Teeth are not fun. Aside from vagina dentata, teeth have no place in, on, or even around someone’s genitals. Granted a little playful and very light graze of the teeth can be tantalizing for some, but you want to make sure you know that that’s what your partner wants before you do it. And, no matter what, NO BITING. To avoid using your teeth during a blow job, try pulling your lips over your teeth and pretend like you’re sucking on a popsicle.

2. You’re Not Using Your Hands

While your mouth is very talented in its own way, not using your hands is not really giving it your all. If you’re giving a blow job, you can use your hands to stroke his shaft or play with his balls. If you’re giving cunnilingus, you can use your hands to massage the vulva or stimulate her G-spot from the inside. Keeping your hands out of the oral sex equation is selling yourself and your partner short.

3. You’re Only Focusing On One Area

If you’re giving oral to a woman, you don’t need to entirely focus on her clitoris. Yes, the clit is chockfull of some 8,000 nerve endings, but that doesn’t mean that should be the only place you focus. Some women enjoy having other parts of their vagina stimulated by the tongue, so do that.

The same goes when giving head to guys. You might think that licking and sucking just the tip of his penis is going to have him writhing in ecstasy, but there’s more to the penis than just that area. In fact, the most sensitive part of the penis, at least on a circumcised penis, is the underside where the circumcision scar is. As for men who are intact, they’re more sensitive all over, because circumcision actually removes five regions of the penis that are full of pleasure sensory.

4. You’re Trying To Do That Deep Throat Thing During A BJ

True story: You know you’re doing it wrong when you try to do it like a porn star. In fact, James Deen’s number one rule of thumb when it comes to sex is to NOT try to have sex like a porn star. While the whole deep throat thing may look hot in porn, in reality, unless you have a gag reflex of steel, it’s no fun. Also, contrary to what porn shows us, not all men want to hear you chocking on their penis. So just don’t go there if you’re giving a BJ.

5. You’re Not Making Eye Contact

According to sex therapist Vanessa Marin, making eye contact during sex is a great way to create intimacy. As she wrote for Bustle: “Looking someone in the eye and having them return your gaze can be a deeply vulnerable and connecting experience.”

Basically, if you’re looking anywhere but your partner’s eyes (while occasionally looking down at what you’re doing), then it’s time to start working on making more eye contact.

6. You’re Not Varying Your Techniques

Just as it is with intercourse, you need to mix things up. You need to try different techniques, either with your mouth or hands, or both. If you’ve discussed it with your partner and they’ve consented, then maybe work some anal play or toys into your usual oral repertoire, too. Doing the same old thing gets boring, for both of you, fast, so don’t be afraid to spice it up.

7. You’re Not Listening To Your Partner’s Cues

Let’s cut to the chase: Not listening to your partner’s cues during sex is an issue. Now that we have that out of the way, it’s time to stress just how crucial it is to listen to your partner when giving oral. Whether they use their words or their moaning, it’s your job to stay aware of their breathing and responses, so you can make adjustments. If your partner is breathing heavily and telling you not to stop doing something you’re doing, but you decide to switch gears anyway, then your partner may get frustrated. Listen and follow direction; it’s that easy.

8. You’re Not Enjoying It

If you don’t enjoy giving oral, then don’t do it. It’s that simple. Where you can go wrong with giving oral is by forcing yourself to do something you don’t want to do… which leads to making disgusted faces the entire time, or acting bored or annoyed. As much as many people find getting oral to be really enjoyable, what immediately sucks the enjoyment out of it is knowing that their partner is having a miserable time.

Remember: You’re under no obligation to give oral sex. But if you do do it, do it because you want to, not because you feel you have to.

Want more of Bustle’s Sex and Relationships coverage? Check out our new podcast, I Want It That Way, which delves into the difficult and downright dirty parts of a relationship, and find more on our Soundcloud page.

Images: vadymvdrobot/Fotolia; Giphy (8)

Oral sex can be fun, but it can also spread disease. (Gross, right?)

Think about it: Oral sex puts you into contact with skin and body fluids—semen, vaginal fluids, blood, urine, feces, breast milk—any of which can contain disease-causing viruses or bacteria… And spitting out these fluids will not protect you from infection. Simple acts like shaving too close and flossing leave tiny cuts that can allow viruses and bacteria to enter the body. Sexually transmitted infections (STIs) that can be passed from one partner to another through oral sex include herpes, gonorrhea, chlamydia, syphillis and Human papillomavirus (HPV).

While abstinence from oral-penile (fellatio, “blow job”), oral-vaginal (cunnilingus) and oral-anal (analingus, “rimming”) contact is the most effective protection against STIs during oral sex, there are ways to make these acts safer.

Explore barrier methods.

There are many brands, styles, types and flavors to choose from, so experiment to find one that works for you. If you’re in a relationship, find a method that both you and your partner can enjoy so you’ll be more inclined to use it regularly.

Be prepared!

Always have your barrier method of choice on hand. Correct and consistent use of protection is KEY in lowering your risk of contracting a sexually transmitted infection (STI).

Use a barrier every time.

Use a new barrier for each oral sex act. Carefully remove and discard used barriers, and steer clear of fluid contact.

Look before you lick.

Just because someone looks disease-free on the outside doesn’t mean that they are! If you see lesions, growths or unusual discharge in the genital area, hold off. These symptoms can be due to numerous STIs, and physical contact with them can lead to infection.

Don’t ever forget the most important person: YOU.

Check your body periodically and contact your health care provider if you have any concerns. If you’re sexually active, get yourself tested for STIs regularly.


Condom (latex or polyurethane)

  • PROS: Cheap, easy to find in stores, relatively easy to use
  • CONS: Bad taste (plain latex)

Dental dam, also known as oral dam

  • PROS: Made specifically for oral sex
  • CONS: Somewhat expensive, more difficult to find in stores

Do-it-yourself dental dam? Yes you can!

Time required: 1 minute… Seriously!

  1. Starting with an unlubricated or flavored condom, carefully remove the condom from the package. NOTE: Because they cannot be stored safely, homemade dental dams cannot be made ahead of time.
  2. Place a pair of sharp scissors into the cylindrical tube of the condom and cut up to the top/tip. NOTE: Do not cut all the way through the condom.
  3. Roll the condom out flat. You now have a thin, rectangular sheet perfect for use during oral sex!


  • Always store condoms/dental dams in a cool, dry place.
  • Don’t open a condom/dental dam package till you are ready to use it.
  • Never use an old condom/dental dam. Check the date on the package to make sure it isn’t expired. Don’t use anything that is older than 5 years from the date of manufacture, either.
  • Use only water-based lubricants with latex condoms. Latex condoms become damaged when used with oil-based substances—such as petroleum jelly, cooking oil, baby oil, mineral oil and skin lotions—as lubricants.
  • Not into latex? Try polyurethane condoms. Polyurethane is often considered better than latex in several ways: it conducts heat better than latex, can be used with oil-based lubricants and does not have an odor.

Still not sure about using protection during oral sex?

Consider this: If you’ve had 2 sexual partners, each of which had 3 sexual partners who had 4 sexual partners apiece… You’ve had indirect sexual contact with at least THIRTY-TWO people — most of whom you’ve never met.

Online sexual health resources (American Social Health Association): ASHA, a 501(c)(3) charitable organization, provides information on sexual health with a focus on preventing sexually transmitted diseases/infections (STDs/STIs). (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention): The CDC’s “Sexual Health” area provides information on multiple topics, including: sexually transmitted diseases/infections (STDs/STIs); reproductive health; healthy pregnancy; HIV/AIDS prevention; sexual violence prevention; and lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans and queer (LGBTQ) health. (Get Yourself Tested): GYT provides the facts on sexually transmitted diseases/infections (STDs/STIs), testing and protection; talking tips to help young people communicate with their partners, parents and health care providers; and a testing center locator provided by the CDC. GYT is developed as part of It’s Your (Sex) Life, a longstanding public information partnership of MTV and the Kaiser Family Foundation, together with the CDC, Planned Parenthood and other national partners.

How to have oral sex


  • Oral sex means using your mouth and tongue to stimulate your partner’s genital or anal area, providing sexual pleasure.
  • Different people like to give and receive oral sex in different ways, so take time to explore what your partner enjoys.
  • There is very low risk of HIV infection from oral sex (unless one of you has genital/mouth sores or bleeding gums).
  • Sexually transmitted infections (STIs) such as herpes, gonorrhoea and syphilis can be passed on through oral sex.
  • Using a condom or a dental dam will help protect you from STIs.
  • Do not have oral sex if either of you has sores in or around your mouth, vagina, penis or anus, or if the person giving oral sex has bleeding gums. These could be a sign of infection and put you at higher risk of passing on STIs including HIV.

Whether you are thinking about having oral sex for the first time or just want some more information – read on for tips on how to have oral sex safely and pleasurably, and answers to some of the most common questions.

Oral sex means using your mouth and tongue to stimulate your partners’ genital or anal area.

Oral sex can be a good way to discover new pleasures with your partner, but deciding whether you want to do it is a very personal choice – not everyone likes it and not everyone tries it!

As with any type of sex, it’s important that both people are enthusiastic about doing it.

Top tips for oral sex

A lot has been written about how to give the best oral sex. But the truth is that different things work for different people.

There’s a whole variety of ways to lick, suck and stimulate – different people may like to give and receive oral sex in different ways. Remember that it can take a while to work out what makes someone feel good.

You may feel nervous before having oral sex – whether you’re giving it or receiving it. The best thing to do is to carry on communicating with your partner. Ask them to tell you what feels nice and let them know when you are enjoying something.

If you’re happy and comfortable with the person you’re with then oral sex can be a great way to get physically closer and learn what turns each other on. But remember that you can pause or stop at any point you want, and the same is true for your partner. Just because you have started something doesn’t mean you need to continue – stopping is actually very normal.

How do you give a man oral sex?

You can start oral sex on a man whether his penis is erect or not. It’s a good idea to use your hand to touch him before you start to help work up to the sensation of oral sex.

If you’re unsure how far you want him to penetrate your mouth, use your thumb and forefinger to make a ring around his penis, stopping it as far as you want to go. You can keep moving your fingers down slowly until you reach the point where it feels deep enough inside your mouth.

Many men find oral sex (also known as ‘blow jobs’) highly sensitive, so start gently and slowly and work up to a faster pace. You can experiment with different tongue, mouth and head movements to see what works best (but never use your teeth unless asked!).

Even if you decide to give a man oral sex, it doesn’t mean that you have to let him ejaculate (or cum) in your mouth – the choice is yours. Of course, if he’s wearing a condom this won’t be such an issue, and it means you will both be protected against sexually transmitted infections (STIs). It’s also entirely up to you how long you continue for.

How do you give a woman oral sex?

It’s usually a good idea to spend some time kissing and touching before giving a woman oral sex. Take your time to explore her upper thighs and the area around her vagina first, to help her get aroused.

The most sensitive part of the vagina for a woman is the clitoris, which has more than 8,000 nerve endings. But the whole pelvic area is very sensitive. Gently part the outer lips of the vagina and look for the vaginal opening, and the hooded clitoris just above it.

Start off softly, using a relaxed tongue to make slow movements and work up to faster movements with a firmer, pointed tongue. You can experiment with making different patterns with your tongue and try different rhythms – taking cues from your partner as to what she enjoys most.

How do you give oral-anal sex (rimming)?

Performing oral sex on your partner’s anus (also known as analingus or rimming) can be part of any sexual relationship, whether gay, bisexual or straight.

If you are concerned about hygiene, ask your partner to wash first – water and a gentle washcloth should do the trick. You could also bathe together as part of foreplay.

You can begin by gently kissing and fondling the area around the anus including the perineum (the area of skin between the genitals and the anus). You can then work your way in to the anus by circling your tongue around the outer area and finally inserting your tongue.

You can try licking, sucking, probing and nibbling gently – taking cues from your partner about what feels good to them.

If you are performing it on a woman, don’t go from the anus to the vagina as this may transfer bacteria and cause infection.

Can I get HIV and STIs from oral sex?

The risk of HIV transmission from oral sex is very low. The main risks arise if the person receiving oral sex has an STI or sores on their genital area, or if the person giving oral sex has sores in their mouth or bleeding gums.

However other STIs such as herpes, gonorrhoea and syphilis can still be passed on through oral sex. And some infections caused by bacteria or viruses can be passed on through oral–anal sex, such as hepatitis A or E.coli.

Infections can be passed on through oral sex even if there are no obvious signs or symptoms of the infection (such as sores). You should definitely avoid having oral sex if either of you has sores around your mouth, vagina, penis or anus. These could be a sign of an infection, so get them checked out by a healthcare professional.

Using a condom or dental dam (a thin, soft plastic that covers the vagina or anus) will protect you from most sexually transmitted infections. If you don’t have a dental dam you can also make an effective barrier by cutting a condom lengthways from bottom to top forming one piece of material that can be used like a dental dam.

Knowing you have the extra protection a condom provides can help make you feel more liberated and less inhibited during oral sex.

Talking to your partner about protection before you start having oral sex will help things go more smoothly. This can be embarrassing, but it’s an important part of having sex – and if you find it too difficult to discuss then it could be a sign that you aren’t ready to start having oral sex just yet.

Should I have oral sex?

It’s a big decision to start having oral sex, and it’s important that you and your partner are ready to start exploring in this way.

Whether it’s giving or receiving oral sex, no one should do it because they feel forced to.

Lines like “it doesn’t mean we’ve had real sex – you’ll still be a virgin”, or “if you don’t want sex then you should at least go down on me”, or “it’s not as risky as having intercourse”, all suggest pressure and coercion. Remember that oral sex should be fun for both of you. If one person is doing it because they feel pressured, it can sour the whole experience.

Deciding whether to have oral sex is a very personal thing. The main things to consider are whether it feels right, and whether you and your partner are both sure. Our article ‘Am I ready for sex?’ will help you think about this.

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Everything You Should Know About Oral STDs (But Probably Don’t)


For every legit fact about safe sex, there’s an urban legend that just won’t die (double-bagging, anyone?). Probably one of the most dangerous myths is that oral sex is safer than the p-in-v variety because you can’t get an STD from going down on someone. Au contraire: Many STDs can be transmitted through oral, including herpes, HPV, chlamydia, gonorrhea, and syphilis.

“Because oral sex is seen as a safer alternative, there’s growing concern on finding ways to educate and protect against these infections,” says Toronto-based endodontist Gary Glassman, D.D.S. “It’s important to be self-aware of both your own oral health and that of your partner as best you can.”

To keep your mouth happy and healthy (and your sex life too), here are six facts you need to know about oral STDs:

1. You can have an oral STD and not know it.

“Often, an oral STD doesn’t produce any noticeable symptoms,” says Glassman, so just because you and your partner feel fine doesn’t mean you’re off the hook. “Maintaining a high standard of oral hygiene reduces your risk for developing any type of sore or infection in the mouth that can increase your risk of contracting an STD,” says Glassman. And even though fessing up to your dentist about your oral sex habits might seem awkward, they can be your first line of defense in diagnosing an oral STD.

2. You can’t get an oral STD from sharing food or drinks.

Different STDs are passed in different ways, but things like sharing food, using the same cutlery, and drinking from the same glass *aren’t* any of them, according to the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States. The sneakiest ways oral STDs can be passed are through kissing (think: herpes) and skin-to-skin contact (HPV). Besides stellar oral hygiene skills, protection is paramount-and doesn’t need to come in the form of a hazmat suit. Using condoms or a dental dam during the deed, keeping your pout moisturized to prevent cracked lips, and steering clear of oral when you have a cut in or around your mouth can all decrease your risk of infection, says Glassman.

3. You shouldn’t brush your teeth before or after oral sex.

Contrary to popular belief, brushing your teeth or swishing mouthwash doesn’t reduce your risk of transmission, and in fact, it can make you more susceptible to an STD. “Before and after oral sex, rinse your mouth out with water only,” says Glassman. Brushing and flossing may be too aggressive a cleaning method-doing so can cause irritation and bleeding gums, ultimately upping your risk. “Even small cuts in the mouth can make it easy for an infection to pass from one partner to another,” he says.

4. Some oral STD symptoms just look like a cold.

People are most concerned about the potential vaginal infection that can result from chlamydia, but the infection can spread through oral sex as well, says Gil Weiss, M.D., assistant professor of clinical medicine at Northwestern Memorial Hospital in Chicago. Worse, the symptoms that surface could potentially be linked to, well, anything. “The symptoms may be very nonspecific, and may include such common features as a sore throat, cough, fever, and enlarged lymph nodes in the neck,” says Dr. Weiss, and that’s if there are symptoms at all. Fortunately, a throat culture is all it takes to score a diagnosis, and the infection can be cleared up with antibiotics. “Honest communication about your sexual activity is vital so that your doctor can detect things before they become a bigger issue,” he adds.

5. They can cause nasty things to happen to your mouth.

Left untreated, an oral STD can morph your mouth into a cesspool of sores. Some strains of HPV, for example, can lead to the development of warts or lesions in the mouth, says Glassman. And while herpes simplex virus 1 (HSV-1) just causes cold sores, HSV-2 is the virus associated with genital lesions-and if passed orally, these same lesions and oozing blisters can develop inside the mouth. Gonorrhea can also cause some seriously uncomfortable issues, such as a painful burning sensation in the throat, white spots on the tongue, and even white, foul-smelling discharge in the mouth. Syphilis, meanwhile, can cause large, painful sores in the mouth that are contagious and that can spread all over the body. (Shudders.)

6. Oral STDs can cause cancer.

“HPV is the most common STD in the United States, and some high-risk strains are associated with oral cancers,” says Glassman. “HPV-positive oral cancers typically develop in the throat at the base of the tongue, and near or on the tonsils, making them difficult to detect.” If you find oral cancer early, there’s a 90 percent survival rate-the problem is, 66 percent of oral cancers are found in stage 3 or 4, says Kenneth Magid, D.D.S., of Advanced Dentistry of Westchester in New York, who recommends requesting that an oral cancer screening be included as part of your biannual dental checkup.

  • By By Krissy Brady

Stds around the mouth

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