Why do we keep hearing that "oral sex is safe in Canada"? Meaning, presumably, that certain Canadian authorities have not placed it on their list of risky behaviors.
I was already aware that certain Canadian agencies discuss giving oral sex as being low risk for HIV, and that our prevention efforts should focus explicitly on preventing unprotected vaginal/anal sex. This is a very short-sighted and potentially harmful approach at prevention of HIV and other Sexually Transmitted Diseases (STDs). The following will discuss why oral sex can be risky and how one can protect oneself. I can't say for sure why certain Canadian agencies took the approach that giving oral sex is low risk. All I can say is that there is already medical proof that giving oral sex can be risky for HIV and other STD's. There are however ways that people can realistically reduce their risk (and not all of them involve condoms!).
When we're talking about the risks for HIV and oral sex, the level of risk varies greatly when we're talking about the giving partner and the receiving partner. HIV has never been transmitted through saliva, so receiving oral sex is a low risk activity for HIV.
But when it comes to giving oral sex, that IS risky for HIV, and there are cases in the medical literature showing that HIV can be transmitted in this fashion. I'm personally finding more and more instances of persons with HIV who state that giving oral sex was their only risk factor (no needle sharing, no anal sex, no blood transfusions etc.). Pre-cum, semen, vaginal secretions, and menstrual blood all have high concentrations of the virus in them. The more of these body fluids that you are exposed to, the greater the risk. If you have any types of cuts or open sores in the mouth, or if you have gum disease (a breakdown in the integrity of the gums), your risk of infection through oral sex increases significantly. Acids in the stomach will kill the virus, but if there are any openings to the blood before the stomach, there would be a risk of infection. Some people state that since there have been so few reported cases of HIV transmission through giving oral sex, that this is a low risk activity. However, people need to understand that when a person tests positive for HIV, we DON'T normally ask them the specific sexual activity that they became infected by. We DO ask if their partners were male or female, and their drug history etc. But we don't usually ask whether they had oral sex, anal sex etc. This is why there's no specific statistic as to the number of cases through giving oral sex. But cases exist in the medical literature of people known to have been infected where giving oral sex was their only risk factor. But again, remember that the question of oral sex exposure is not asked to the vast majority of folks testing positive.
Vaginal/Anal sex is clearly a more efficient transmission of the virus. However, just because giving oral sex is lower risk than vaginal/anal sex, doesn't mean it's low risk. But it is LOWER risk than intercourse. Another issue that is often totally ignored is the risk of other Sexually Transmitted Diseases (STD's) while giving oral sex. Not only can you get HIV, but you can also get other STD's as well. Gonorrhea is a great example of this. Gonorrhea can get into a persons throat while giving oral sex. Hepatitis B is transmitted the same way as HIV, only it's much more infectious. And Hepatitis B is incurable, and potentially fatal. When we're talking about safer sex, and low risk sex, we need to take off our blinders, and remember that there are many other STD's out there besides HIV. Many other STD's are even more infectious than HIV. Some of the other STD's are also incurable, and some can kill you as well. Safer sex does not just refer to HIV, it refers to ALL Sexually Transmitted Diseases.
You can reduce your risk of these diseases while giving oral sex, and still enjoy doing it. How? You have several options, some involve condoms, others do not:
Let's start off with making condoms taste better. First of all, always use unlubricated condoms for oral sex. Lubricants were never made to be ingested. There are flavored condoms on the market which don't taste so bad. "Kiss Of Mint" is probably the best example. But what if you can't find Kiss of Mint? What if you hate the taste of mint? Well, all you have to do is use any food item that isn't oil based, and put it on a latex condom. You can use honey, jam.......hey someone I know even used beer! You can use any food item that will cover the awful taste of latex, as long as it isn't oil based. Using food for sex can also eroticise things with your partner. You can use plastic condoms. These condoms, sold under the brand name "Avanti" are made out of a type of plastic called polyurethane. Since they're not made out of latex, they don't have that awful latex taste (yes, I've tasted Avanti condoms myself!). Studies are still being done to see how well they protect against HIV and other STD's. Unfortunately, these are not presently available in an unlubricated form. I'm not sure if these are available in Canada or not, but they are available in the USA. If you don't want to use condoms at all, at the very least, don't let the guy cum in your mouth. The less you allow pre-cum and semen to get in your mouth, the less the chance of infection. "LOOK BEFORE YOU LICK". If you see any type of lesions, growths or discharge on the guys penis, that's natures way of telling you to hold off. These symptoms can be due to numerous STD's, and physical contact with them can lead to infection. A guy can have a disease and have no symptoms at all, but if you see something that doesn't belong there, don't touch it! By the way, when giving oral sex to a woman, you can use plastic wrap/saran wrap, which will act as a barrier between you and your partner, and should protect you against HIV and other Sexually Transmitted Diseases.
Of course having oral sex without protection will still have some element of risk, but looking before you lick, and not letting the guy cum in your mouth will significantly reduce your risk. So if you love going down your partner, but you hate the taste of latex, you now have 5 ways of having safer sex.
Taking a one issue approach (only preventing unprotected vaginal/anal sex) at stopping AIDS is a very short-sighted approach. Only a multiple approach at prevention will work. This includes getting people to reduce their risk during vaginal, anal AND oral sex. It includes reducing alcoholism and drug abuse. It includes risk reduction of other STD's. Denial and short-sighted ideas have already killed thousands of people. Pretending that giving oral sex is low risk sex isn't the solution. But trying out any of the options above, are ways to give safer oral sex, and still enjoy it.