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Oral Sex: What's the Real Risk for HIV?

June 2013

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Table of Contents


Introduction

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 or other barriers are used.

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Oral sex has been shown to be less risky than these activities, but it is not risk-free. 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.

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). It is also possible to get other sexually-transmitted diseases (STDs), such as syphilis, herpes, gonorrhea and human papilloma virus (HPV) through oral sex.


Studies on the Risks of Oral Sex

Even though oral sex is a lower-risk activity for HIV, several reports show that people have become infected with HIV through oral sexual activity. 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 spreading HIV since oral sex is not the only sexual activity for most people. Other factors also increase the risk of oral sex, including bad oral hygiene, genital sores, and the presence of other STDs.

The take home message is that oral sex carries a small but real risk.

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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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