Barriers During Oral Sex: The Wise Choice

Barriers During Oral Sex

Oral sex includes contact between the mouth and a penis, vagina, or anus. Although oral sex cannot lead to pregnancy, oral sex can and does lead to the spread of sexually transmitted infections (STIs). In her 2005 study conducted at Boynton University, Jamie VanGeest discovered that "out of the 75.3 percent of students who have engaged in oral sex, only 2.9 percent have used a condom or dental dam." Oral barriers, including condoms and dental dams, prevent direct contact between partners’ skin and bodily fluids in order to significantly reduce the risk of STI transmission. By using different varieties and flavors of oral barriers, using protection during oral sex can become a fun and sexy part of your sexual routine.


Common Infections Spread through Oral Sex

Many STIs, including gonorrhea, chlamydia, herpes, the human papillomavirus (HPV), and the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), can be transmitted through mouth-to-genital contact. Although most bacterial pathogens (like gonorrhea and chlamydia) can be treated successfully with antibiotics, viral infections are generally more difficult to cure and often lead to serious health problems. The likelihood of contracting an STI through oral sex is correlated to the number of sexual partners a person has had.


A Link between Human Papillomavirus (HPV) and Oral Cancer

Though the amount of most head and neck cancers has been declining since the 1970s due to decreased smoking rates, a particular type of oral cancer linked to the human papillomavirus (HPV) is on the rise due to a growing popularity in oral sex. HPV is one of the most common STIs in the United States. While most HPV infections are asymptomatic and clear up on their own within two years, some infections can cause long-term problems. These problems include the development of genital warts along the lining of the vagina, cervix, anus, mouth, tongue and throat. Cervical, penile, anal and oral cancers can also result from HPV infections. Oral cancers caused by HPV are more curable than other types of oral cancers, however they can still result in long-term side effects and serious health complications.

A 2012 study by the Journal of the American Medical Association found that 10 percent of males and 3.6 percent of females have HPV in their throats. Young adults (ages 9 through 26) of both sexes can receive vacinnations against HPV to help prevent the spread of the virus. See your doctor if you have any of these symptoms:

-A sore throat or difficulty in swallowing that continues for more than two weeks

 -A lump in the neck or enlarged tonsils


Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV)

Oral sex carries less risk for human immondeficiency virus (HIV) transmission than vaginal or anal sex. Do not engage in oral sex if you or your partner has oral or genital sores or bleeding gums - this increases the risk of HIV contraction. To reduce risk further, wait at least 45 minutes after brushing your teeth to perform oral sex so that the mucous membranes in your mouth can recover. Stomach acid and enzymes in the esophagus help kill the virus, so swallow or spit out semen rather than letting it sit in your mouth.


Common Barrier Methods

Male condoms

Male condoms are very effective against STI transmission when used properly. Male condoms are generally made of latex and  are used when oral sex is being performed on a male. There are a variety of condom flavors for individuals who dislike the taste of latex. To incorporate the use of oral barriers into an oral sex rou

tine, the male can ask his partner to roll the condom on for them rather than doing it by himself. By practicing this activity together, the couple will learn not to view condoms as an awkward interruption during oral sex. A couple can also incorporate fun methods of condom application, like having him guide your hand to put on the condom or using ones mouth.

“It can be made part of the erotic experience. You don’t just hand a condom to a guy and say, ‘Here, put this on. I don’t want a disease.’ You’ve gotta not make it clinical, you’ve gotta make it sexy and fun,” says Norma Jean Almodovar, sex worker rights activist and executive director for COYOTE LA. 

Dental Dams

Dental Dams are another method available for protection against STIs. Dental dams are essentially small square pieces of latex or silicone that are applied over the female genitalia and the female or male anus prior to oral sex. To properly put on dental dams, individuals must place them on the outside of the vulva or anus. Once individuals correctly fit the dental dam over the region, they can add a lubricant to increase the region’s sensitivity. Like male condoms, dental dams also come in a variety of different flavors; flavored gels can also be used. Although dental dams are an important barrier against STIs during oral sex, these devices can be difficult to find in drugstores and convenience stores. Safer sex shops, Planned Parenthood centers, and online websites are the most typical dental dam providers. Fortunately dental dams can be easily produced by altering a male condom or by using plastic saran wrap from your kitchen.



Harvard Health Publications

Pacific Standard

Palo Alto Medical Foundation

San Francisco AIDS Foundation

VanGeest, Jamie. "Boynton says students unaware of oral sex dangers." Minnesota Daily ?21 October 2005: 1.

Last Updated 9 Oct 2013.