Dear Em & Lo, How Risky Is Oral Sex for STD Transmission?

I’m a teenager who was kinda pressured to give a guy oral (he’s my age) and though it was only for 3 minutes tops, I don’t know anything about his medical history except that he has had sex before. I myself had never done that before, nor have I had sex (I am a virgin) and didn’t even think about a condom or anything.

I am worried a bit and don’t know what to do. My mom would straight up kill me so I can’t ask her to take me to a doctor to get tested. And if i can go with my older brother, I don’t know when would be best to go. The guy didn’t do anything in my mouth (sorry for the graphics) but I’m still kinda scared a bit. And I can’t know if their is a symptom bc I have braces, so I’ve gotten a lot of sores in my mouth before because of them.

If you know anything, that would mean a lot. It was something I shouldn’t have allowed or done, especially without knowing things that could happen, especially at my age.

— Orally Fixated

Dear O.F.,

First, you should be commended for your conscientiousness and your efforts to learn more. Most young people erroneously assume STD risk from oral is next to nothing, that it’s only genital-to-genital contact they’ve really got to worry about (perhaps it’s the double-whammy risk of pregnancy and STDs that makes heteros take bumping uglies more seriously).  But oral sex is still inherently risky. Just as condoms should be used for all intercourse to greatly reduce (though not totally eliminate) STD-risk, dental dams should be used for all cunnilingus and condoms for all fellatio — at least until both partners have been tested together,  know each other’s health status, and have committed to be mutually monogamous (an unlikely hat trick for most teens).

It’s hard to quantify exactly how risky oral sex is, since it often goes hand-in-hand with other sex acts (which may be the source of infection), but various studies have found certain factors can increase risk when dining downtown. One big pro for your situation is that he didn’t ejaculate — that can significantly increase the likelihood of transmission. Two cons are that 1) you often have cuts in your mouth from the braces and 2) it was fellatio performed instead of cunnilingus (yet again girls get the short end of the stick, as it were).

While almost any STD can theoretically be spread via genital-to-mouth contact, all is not lost. According to HIV InSite from the University of California San Francisco, “most scientists believe the risk is relatively low” when it comes to getting HIV from fellatio. While herpes can still be spread when carriers are asymptomatic (on a few days of the year when they “shed” the virus invisibly), your chances of contracting it when there are no active sores is greatly reduced. Cases of oral HPV have risen over the past three decades, but men are more likely than women to have it, and only about 1% of the population has the strain of HPV associated with throat cancer. According to Medicinenet, “many people that develop oral gonorrhea never develop symptoms and spontaneously clear the infection without antibiotics.” And as is the case with any infection, the fewer partners you and your partner have had, the less likely you are to be exposed to STDs.

Then again, all it takes is one. So we commend your desire to go see a doctor and get checked out. It’s too bad you can’t confide in your mom, but if you’ve got a cool brother who will take you, find a way to work that out. When you go, explain your situation and that you’d like to be tested for all oral STDs (they might allay your fears and recommend forgoing certain tests). Before your visit, you might want to make sure how the visit and tests will be paid for — will your mom get a health insurance bill? Planned Parenthood is a great resource for discreet, affordable testing, usually with weekend hours. Consider giving your nearest one a call.

Chances are, you’re fine. What’s more concerning to us, actually, is that you caved to the pressure to perform a sex act you obviously weren’t ready for. For reasons we can’t fathom, BJs have become an expected obligation for young women in casual hookups — a risky, often un-arousing (at least for unenthused giver) sex act that almost always goes unreciprocated. Why do girls put up with this? You deserve mutual pleasure with someone who respects your boundaries, who cares about you and your body.

You wrote that you never had sex, but guess what? Now that you’ve engaged in fellatio, you’ve had sex! Virginity is an old-fashioned, out-dated, religious-based concept that is ridiculously, singularly tethered to penis-vagina penetration, disregards same-sex relationships and, most significantly, ignores mutual pleasure and orgasm. Oral sex is an intimate act that involves both physical and emotional risks. Sure, it can be great fun, but it shouldn’t be given or taken so lightly, especially when you’re both so new to it all. You’ve obviously grasped its gravity, or else you wouldn’t have written.

We hope in the future you will feel empowered enough to articulate your own desires, outline your boundaries, be prepared with your own protection (no, that doesn’t make you a slut, it makes you smart), and only do what you want to do — all with someone you fully trust.

Kisses (with barrier protection),
Em & Lo

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For other newbies:
How to Tell a Guy How Inexperienced You Are


  1. And this is why we need to be concerned with who’s teaching sex education in the schools. While it’s nice to see that this young woman came to you for advice, it’s also troubling that she had to turn to the internet. Adequate health/sex education teachers might have provided an alternative that she could have interacted with (no criticism to you, Em & Lo, I’m just fuming from the last piece I read).

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