Prime News Ghana

Risks associated with oral sex that everyone must know

By Justice Kofi Bimpeh
Oral sex
Oral sex
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Oral sex involves using your mouth and tongue to stimulate your partner for sexual pleasure. But is oral sex safe or are you at risk of catching a sexually transmitted infection?

Oral sex is now widely practised in all types of sexual relationships. Fellatio (where the man has oral sex performed on him) and cunnilingus (where the woman has oral sex performed on her) are extremely popular and are widely regarded as a normal, enjoyable part of a sexual relationship.

Furthermore, it's been shown that oral sex comes with benefits - it can be extraordinarily effective at helping women to reach a climax, it can help men who have some minor difficulty in getting an erection and it won't get you pregnant (except under the most extraordinary and unlikely circumstances).

However, a lot of people do – quite understandably – get concerned about whether oral love play could pass on any type of STI. GP Dr Roger Henderson looks at the various risks that can be associated with oral sex and explains how to enjoy safe oral sex:

What is oral sex?

First, let's just clarify what we mean by 'oral sex'. There are several main types.

• Cunnilingus

Sometimes referred to as 'cunnilinctus', cunnilingus is oral stimulation of a woman's vagina and/or vulva – and especially her clitoris – by her partner's lips and tongue.

• Fellatio

This involves stimulation of a man's penis by his partner’s mouth – usually by licking or sucking. It is often wrongly referred to as 'a blow job' since it is dangerous to 'blow' during this manoeuvre (or during cunnilingus).

• Nippling

This involves sucking or licking your partner's nipples, and carries almost no risk of any infection – except, very rarely, syphilis.

• Oral-anal sex

Often referred to as 'rimming' – this involves stimulation of the partner's anus with tongue or lips. Because the anal area has lots of bacteria in and around it, rimming can lead to a transfer of germs to the mouth.

Oral sex risk factors

As any doctor at a sexual health clinic can tell you, it is possible to acquire several forms of sexually transmitted infections (STI) through oral sex, if the other person is infected. The risk is also usually higher if you give rather than receive oral sex because of greater exposure to genital fluids. STIs which could potentially be transferred via oral sex include the following:

• Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV)

Because of concerns about the possibility of HIV transmission through the widespread practice of oral sex, the UK Department of Health set up an expert group to report back on the matter. In broad summary, their main conclusions were that HIV can be transmitted by oral sex, although this risk is very low, and both fellatio and cunnilingus have been known to pass it on, although this is often due to one partner having genital/mouth sores or bleeding gums.

However, oral sex is certainly much safer HIV-wise than rectal or anal sex and is also probably safer than vaginal intercourse (ulcers in the mouth could increase the risk of HIV transmission) and oral sex is riskier than non-penetrative sex (such as mutual masturbation or kissing).

During fellatio, if the man avoids ejaculation it probably reduces the risk somewhat, while in the case of cunnilingus there may be an increased risk of transmission if the woman is menstruating. There is no evidence that mouthwashes reduce the risk of infection. Finally, using condoms or 'dental dams' during oral sex can reduce the chance of infection occurring.

• Gonorrhoea

Gonorrhoea, a common STI, can be transmitted to the throat during oral sex, especially fellatio. Because of this fact, sexual health clinics often take 'throat swabs' these days. In the throat, the germ can cause inflammation, formation of pus and sometimes soreness but may cause no symptoms at all, and the person just 'carries' it.

• Syphilis
The lesions of syphilis usually appear on the genitals or the anus (and very rarely on the nipple) but they do sometimes appear on the lips or tongue, as a result of oral sex and so in that case the disease can be caught from an infected person's mouth.

• Chlamydia

Chlamydia trachomatis is a genital infection that has become extremely common among sexually active young people during the last two decades and it has been estimated that in some parts of the UK at least 10 per cent of younger adults have it. If chlamydia gets established in the throat, mouth or nose, it could cause various infections, particularly of the eye.

• Herpes simplex virus

The herpes simplex virus (HSV) infection is the commonest cause of genital ulceration. There are two types of the virus. Type 1 affects mainly the lip – causing cold sores. Type 2 causes blisters on the genitals. In the past, it was thought that genital herpes was caused almost exclusively by Type 2, but in recent years it has become clear that many herpes ulcers on the penis or vulva/vagina are actually caused by the Type 1 virus.

Genital herpes is characterised by recurrent bouts of vesicles (small blisters), either on the penis or vulva, or other parts of the female genital tract. These rapidly break down to form small, painful ulcers. HSV can also cause pharyngitis, an inflammation of the throat with ulcer formation. HSV is highly infectious and usually sexually transmitted, including through oral sex.

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