Sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and diseases contracted through vaginal, anal, and oral sex. Any skin-to-skin contact with the genitals can spread these infections.
Oral sex involves using one’s mouth, lips, and tongue to stimulate a partner’s genitals. Stimulation of the penis is called fellatio, stimulation of the vagina is cunnilingus, while stimulation of the anus is anilingus.
To prevent transmission and reduce risk of infection, sexual partners use a genital or dental condom (sometimes called dental dams).
There are various types of sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) and STIs that can be spread through oral sex, among them, chlamydia, gonorrhea, syphilis, herpes simplex virus (HSV-2), human papilloma virus (HPV) and human immunodeficiency virus (HIV).
Types of Oral STDs to Watch Out For
Chlamydia is the most common bacterial STD in the world. It is brought about by the bacteria Chlamydia trachomatis. In 2015, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) received more than 1.5 million reports of chlamydia.
Chlamydia can be spread via oral sex, affecting both men and women. But is is more likely to be passed on through anal or vaginal sex. Chlamydia targets the throat, genitals, urinary tract and rectum.
People infected with chlamydia of the throat are asymptomatic. When symptoms do appear, they may present with a sore throat. With the correct antibiotics, it can be cured.
Gonorrhea is also called “the clap”, from the French “clapier bubo”, meaning infection of the penis. It is caused by the bacterium Neisseria gonorrhoeae. An estimated 820,000 new infections are reported each year by the CDC, with 570,000 cases afflicting individuals aged 15 to 24.
Gonorrhea manifests in the throat, genitals, urinary tract, and rectum. It may be transmitted via genital sex as well.
Gonorrhea does not often show any symptoms, but symptoms may surface a week after exposure. The most common sign of this disease is a sore throat.
Like chlamydia, gonorrhea can be treated with antibiotics. However, there has been reported increases of drug-resistant gonorrhea. Re-testing is recommended should symptoms in an affected person persist even after the full course of treatment is finished.
Another form of oral STD is syphilis. This is caused by bacterium Treponema pallidum. It affects the mouth, lips, throat, genitals, anus and rectum.
Unlike other oral infections, syphilis is serious, and not as common as other STDs. The CDC reported over 74,000 new syphilis diagnoses in 2015.
The symptoms of oral syphilis occur in three stages:
- First stage: Sores inside or around the mouth and the throat
- Second stage: Fever, swollen lymph nodes, rash on skin
- Third stage: Damage to brain, nerves, eyes, heart, blood vessels, liver, bones and joints
The latent stage of the infection shows no signs or symptoms and can last for several years.
Left untreated, T. pallidum will remain in the body and can cause serious health issues: organ damage and significant neurological outcomes. An infected pregnant woman can spread the bacterium to her fetus, which can result in serious complications for the baby, or even a stillbirth.
Syphilis can be treated with antibiotics, while in other cases, symptoms may disappear with or without treatment.
Herpes simplex virus 2 (HSV-2)
Herpes simplex virus 2 is part of a family of highly contagious viruses that afflict humans. HSV-2 is passed on primarily during sex and may result in genital or anal herpes. The World Health Organization (WHO) says that an estimated 417 million people younger than 50 around the world are infected.
HSV-2 can also be transmitted through oral sex. Although the incidence is rare, it may also cause herpes esophagitis, which targets immunocompromised people.
Its symptoms include:
- Open sores in the mouth
- Difficulty swallowing
- Joint pain
- Malaise (a general feeling of being unwell)
Unfortunately, HSV-2 is a lifelong infection and can be spread even if one is asymptomatic. The treatment can only reduce or prevent herpes outbreaks.
Human papillomavirus (HPV)
The CDC approximates about 79 million currently have HPV, with at least 14 million at risk of becoming infected each year. HPV infection does not cause any symptoms, in some cases.
In those that show symptoms, it targets the mouth, throat, genitals, cervix, anus, and rectum.
Other HPV infections may also lead to laryngeal or respiratory papillomatosis, affecting the mouth and throat.
- Warts in the throat
- Vocal changes
- Difficulty speaking
- Shortness of breath
Several other HPV types that infect the mouth and throat may even cause head or neck cancer.
HPV has no cure but it may disappear within two years of infection. Warts of the mouth and throat can easily be removed through surgery. However they may resurface even with treatment.
Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV)
According to the CDC, this type of virus has affected around 1.1 million in the US, with declining rates. But in the Philippines, the rate of increase in HIV infections is steadily increasing.
HIV is transmitted mostly through genital and anal sex. The likelihood of contracting it through oral sex is very low.
Initially, people with HIV may exhibit flu-like symptoms. However, it is a lifelong disease and many of those infected see no symptoms for years.
Although there is no known cure for it, people with HIV can live longer and healthier with the help of antiviral medication and treatment.
How can one get tested?
Procedures that test for oral STIs and STDs vary for each type. A swab of the genital area or a urine sample are done to check for chlamydia and gonorrhea.
HIV and HSV-2 (symptomatic or asymptomatic) can be tested via a swab of the affected area and a blood test, as a follow-up.
Syphilis can be diagnosed with a sample from a sore or a blood test.
HPV can be identified through visual diagnosis based on symptoms (if there are warts on the mouth or throat), or a pap test.
The CDC recommends testing for oral STIs and STDs at least once a year, especially for sexually active women younger than 25 years old, and those exhibiting symptoms
Those with multiple sex partners, pregnant women, and individuals between the ages 13 to 64 should be tested for HIV at least once in their lifetime.
Though STDs are typically spread via sexual intercourse, it is stilly highly possible to become infected through oral sex. Despite this, it can be easily prevented by wearing a condom or dental dam. As a general rule, one should get tested on a regular basis and practice safe sex in all instances.
Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.