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Is oral sex low risk due to stomach acids?
Mar 18, 1997

Dear Sir, I was talking to a friend who is an andrologist (male fertility doctor) and he was saying that oral sex is a very low risk activity for HIV infection because if you swallow semen the stomach acids will protect you somewhat from becoming infected. I kind of agree with him only because of the fact that there are not that many cases of people being infected this way. Don't get me wrong; I know there are some cases out there but I wonder if they all had a direct access to the bloodstream before the semen reached their stomachs, i.e., cuts on lips. If this is the case then my friend may have a point. However, I remain skeptical because that theory seems too cut and dry. What is your take on it?

Response from Mr. Sowadsky

Hi. Thank you for your question.

It is a common myth that giving oral sex is low risk, due to stomach acids being able to kill the virus. What people tend to forget is that when giving a person oral sex, the body fluids that you're exposed to (semen etc.) do not go directly into the stomach. They first pass into the mouth, past the throat, and then into the esophagus ("food pipe"), before reaching the stomach. If a person has gum disease in the mouth, or if the person has cuts, open sores, or abrasions in the mouth, throat, or esophagus, the virus can enter the bloodstream and a person can become infected. Once the virus enters the stomach, the acids in the stomach will kill the virus. But if there's any openings to the bloodstream before the stomach, there is a chance for infection to occur.

Giving oral sex is NOT low risk. It is a risky activity, and people have become infected this way (although the risk is lower than that of intercourse). Remember that we cannot give an exact statistic as to how many people became infected while giving oral sex. This is because we do not usually ask people with HIV what specific sexual activities they engaged in (vaginal vs. anal vs. oral sex). But we have seen cases where a persons only risk factor was giving others oral sex. So we can say that people have become infected by giving oral sex, but we cannot say how many people became infected this way. We can say however, that the risk is less than that of vaginal or anal intercourse. For further information on the risks of giving oral sex, please see the question, "Oral Sex" .

If you have any further questions, please feel free to call the Centers for Disease Control at 1.800.232.4636 (Nationwide).



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