Oral Sex: What's the Real Risk for HIV?
April 28, 2017
Table of Contents
The chances of HIV being passed from one person to another depend on the type of contact. HIV is most easily spread or transmitted through unprotected anal sex, unprotected vaginal sex, and sharing injection drug equipment. Unprotected sex means sex in which no condoms, other barriers, or treatment-as-prevention methods (different ways of using HIV drugs to lower risk of HIV transmission) are used.
Oral sex involves contact between the mouth and the genitals. It includes giving or receiving licking, sucking, or biting of the vulva (vagina, clitoris, and labia, or "lips"), penis, or anus. Under most circumstances, oral sex poses little to no risk of spreading HIV. Oral sex may not be risk-free, but it has been shown to be much less risky than the activities described above.
HIV is present in female sexual fluid (vaginal secretions), male sexual fluids ("cum" and "pre-cum"), and blood. HIV cannot be spread through saliva (spit). One of these other fluids must be present, and there must be a way for them to enter the HIV-negative person's bloodstream (such as mouth sores or genital ulcers), for HIV transmission to be possible.
It is possible to get other sexually transmitted infections or diseases (STIs or STDs), such as syphilis, herpes, gonorrhea, and human papilloma virus (HPV) through oral sex. HIV treatment as prevention does not protect against STIs other than HIV.
Oral sex is a low-risk activity for HIV. Factors that increase the risk of HIV transmission through oral sex include having bleeding gums, mouth ulcers, gum disease, genital sores, and other sexually transmitted infections. Several reports suggest that people have acquired HIV through oral sexual activity in rare instances. A number of studies have tried to figure out the exact level of risk of oral sex, but it can be difficult to get accurate information. When HIV is spread, it is difficult to tell if it was the oral sex or another, more risky sexual activity that was responsible for transmitting HIV.
The take home message is that oral sex may, under certain circumstances, carry a small but real risk of HIV transmission.
Oral sex is more risky if you or your partner:
There are things you can do to lower the risk associated with oral sex:
While the risk of becoming infected through unprotected oral sex is lower than that of unprotected anal or vaginal sex, it is not risk-free. If you or your partner is living with HIV (HIV+), it is important that you decide what steps to take to make all types of sex safer (see our fact sheet on safer sex). It is also important to remember that having bleeding gums, mouth ulcers, or gum disease and taking cum or menstrual blood in your mouth can make oral sex more risky. If you would like to discuss these issues, see a sex educator or health care provider at your local AIDS service organization (ASO) or treatment center. To find an ASO in your area, click here. For services worldwide, please use AIDSmap's e-atlas.
Adapted from original article written by LM Arnal.
This article was provided by The Well Project. Visit The Well Project's Web site to learn more about their resources and initiatives for women living with HIV. The Well Project shares its content with TheBody.com to ensure all people have access to the highest quality treatment information available. The Well Project receives no advertising revenue from TheBody.com or the advertisers on this site. No advertiser on this site has any editorial input into The Well Project's content.
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