There are many perks to oral sex — apart from it being pleasurable, there’s no risk of unintended pregnancy — but it doesn’t come without some risk. Many sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) can be spread through oral sex. 

In general, you can get some STDs in the mouth or throat after giving oral sex to a partner who has a genital or rectal STD, and you can get some STDs on the genitals after getting oral sex from a partner with a mouth or throat STD infection.

Oral sex means using the mouth to stimulate the genitals of a sex partner. Types of oral sex include the penis (fellatio), vagina (cunnilingus), and anus (aniligus). 

There aren’t many studies that compare the risk of getting a STD from oral sex compared to getting one from vaginal or anal sex, but we know STDs can be spread during oral sex. That’s because STDs can spread through any type of sexual contact by sharing body fluids semen (“pre-cum” or “cum”), vaginal fluid, saliva, or skin-to-skin contact with sores, rashes, or open wounds, even if there’s no penetration involved. 

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the odds of getting or spreading an STD from oral sex depends on a few factors, including the type of STD infection, the type of oral sex (what body parts are used), and the number of times you had oral sex. 

Still, we don’t know for sure whether oral sex is generally “safer” than other types of sex. The CDC says there’s a low risk of human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) transmission from oral sex, but we still don’t know for sure if this is true for other STDs as well.  

What STDs can be spread through oral sex?

According to the CDC, the following are STDs that can be spread through oral sex: 

  • Chlamydia: Chlamydia can spread by giving or receiving oral sex. Oral sex involving a penis can cause chlamydia in the throat (you can get chlamydia in the throat if you are giving oral sex to a partner with an infected penis, or you can get chlamydia of the penis if you are getting oral sex from a partner with a throat infection). There needs to be more research on how high the risk of spreading chlamydia is during oral sex involving the vagina or anus, but it can likely spread through any kind of oral sex. 
  • Gonorrhea: Giving oral sex to a partner with an infected penis can cause gonorrhea in the throat. There’s not a lot of research on whether oral sex involving a vagina (cunnilingus) — either giving oral sex to a partner with an infected vagina or getting oral sex from a partner with a throat infection — carries that same risk, but it may be possible The same is true for oral sex involving the anus.
  • Syphilis: Syphilis can be spread by giving or receiving oral sex if the infected person has a syphilis sore or rash (two common symptoms of syphilis) on the genitals, anus, lips, mouth, or throat. The risk of spreading syphilis via oral sex also depends on how long the person has had it.
  • Genital herpes: Genital herpes can be spread by giving or receiving oral sex with or from a partner with herpes on the genitals, anus, lips, mouth or throat. It’s important to note that you can get herpes from a sex partner who does not have a visible sore or is unaware of the infection. You can get genital herpes from a partner with oral herpes, and you can get oral herpes from a partner with genital herpes. 
  • Human papillomavirus (HPV): Giving oral sex to a partner with an HPV infection can cause HPV in the throat. HPV may also be spread by receiving oral sex from someone with HPV in the throat, but more research needs to be done to better understand this risk. 
  • HIV: HIV can be spread through giving or receiving oral sex; however, the risk of infection is lower than the risks from vaginal or anal sex. Giving oral sex on the penis of a partner with HIV can cause HIV – but again this risk is lower than with vaginal. While it has not been well studied, it is thought that the risk of spreading HIV through oral sex involving the vagina or anus is extremely low. Receiving oral sex may increase the chances of contracting HIV, but the risk is thought to be very low and hasn’t been researched enough.
  • Trichomoniasis: Giving oral sex to a partner with an infection in their genitals may cause trichomoniasis (or “trich” for short) of the throat, but the risk is very low. There aren’t any reports of trichomoniasis via other types of oral sex, but then again, trichomoniasis isn’t a reportable disease, so it’s unclear how many people actually have trich or got it from oral sex.
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I had unprotected oral sex, should I get tested?

Yes! Getting tested regularly is the best way to stop the spread of sexually transmitted infections (and prevent any potential long-term complications from an untreated STI). You should get tested after about every three months if you are having unprotected sex — or anytime you have a new sex partner. 

Many STDs are symptomless, meaning you won’t know you have an STD unless you get tested. It is possible to spread STDs even when you don't have any symptoms. This is why it’s important to get tested regularly. Of course, you should speak to your healthcare provider and get STI testing if you have any new symptoms — like sores or rashes; genital, rectal, or oral/throat pain; abnormal genital or rectal discharge; or any other symptoms that are new or abnormal for you.  

The CDC says sexually active adults should get an STI test at least once yearly, even if they’re in a long-term, committed relationship. 

If your doctor or healthcare professional suspects you have an oral STI, they may need to take a swab of your mouth, throat, or any visible sores. ​​

How to have safe oral sex

If you’re sexually active, your risk of getting an STI is never zero. There are a few things you can do to have safe oral sex, which drastically reduces the likelihood of getting or spreading one. 

  • Use a non-lubricated latex condom during oral sex involving a penis. If you are allergic to latex, there are also latex-free condoms available. If you want to make things interesting, you can try a flavored condom — that’s literally why they exist!
  • Use a dental dam for oral sex on the vagina or anus. If you can’t find a dental dam, you can cut open a condom to make a square and put it between your mouth and your partner’s vagina or anus. Alternatively, you can buy single-use latex underwear like Lorals, which are FDA-approved to protect you from STIs during oral sex.
  • Avoid having oral sex (or any sex, for that matter) if you or your partner have visible sores, blisters, or a skin rash on your mouth or genitals (but remember, many STDs can be spread even if there are no symptoms or sores).
  • Get vaccinated for HPV to protect you against the most dangerous kinds of HPV that can lead to certain types of cancer.
  • Have an honest talk with any sexual partners about their sexual health history and the last time they got tested.
  • Get tested regularly for STIs, especially when you have any new sex partners. Remember: most STIs don’t cause any symptoms, so the only way to know for sure if you have an STI is to get tested. 


How hard is it to get an STD from receiving oral?

Researchers haven’t looked into whether having oral sex is “safer” than having anal or vaginal sex, so it’s hard to know exactly what your chances are of getting an STD from oral sex. We do know, however, that most STIs can be passed on during oral sex, so even oral sex carries a risk. 

What STDs can you catch from receiving oral?

Chlamydia, gonorrhea, syphilis, HPV, herpes, trichomoniasis, and HIV can be spread via oral sex — whether you’re giving or receiving it. The risk of spreading HIV is significantly lower with oral than with vaginal or anal sex, but it’s possible.

How quickly do oral STDs develop?

Many STDs are symptomless, meaning you would not know you had one unless you got tested. STDs can be spread even if you have no symptoms. If symptoms do develop, how long it takes for them to appear depends on which STD you have because each has a different incubation period (and it can vary from person to person). Symptoms can show up within a couple of weeks or take as long as years to appear. In many cases, STDs won’t cause any symptoms at all. 

Does oral still feel good with a dental dam?

Pleasure is totally subjective, but dental dams are incredibly thin and soft — almost like a second skin — so oral sex should still feel good for most people. Give it a try!