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Does Oral Sex Put You at Risk for HIV?

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Question: Does Oral Sex Put You at Risk for HIV?
Oral sex is a risk for HIV. But as new research shows, it is not nearly as risky as other sex acts.
Answer:

When I first learned about HIV in high school we were clearly taught that oral sex performed on a man was NOT considered a risk for contracting the virus.

However, by the early 2000s, the thinking on this matter had changed and everyone was warned that HIV could indeed be passed this way.

The general advice held that your chance of contracting HIV from unprotected oral sex was much lower than it was from unprotected vaginal or anal sex. But lower didn't mean nil, and using condoms for any instance of oral was advised.

It seems like that advice will be here to stay for at least a little while longer.

A study published in the Dec. 2008 issue of the International Journal of Epidemiology reported that while the risk of contracting HIV from oral sex may be even smaller than previously thought, it is impossible to rule it out.

Almost as interesting were some of the challenges the researchers found when studying this topic. These included:

  • Very few people report oral sex as their sole risk behavior.
  • If a person practices both unprotected oral sex and unprotected anal or vaginal sex, and acquires HIV, their infection is normally automatically attributed to the higher risk behavior.
  • Data on individuals’ self-reported sexual behavior is hard to collect accurately, especially when subjects may prefer to give more socially acceptable answers (i.e. not revealing unprotected anal or vaginal sex).
  • Studies have frequently grouped all oral sex practices together, without distinguishing whether it was receptive or insertive, whether ejaculation occurred in the mouth, etc.
  • Studies of serodiscordant couples (where one person is HIV-positive and the other is not) are likely to include people with well-controlled viral load, meaning that they are much less infectious than during primary infection.
  • Studies which do identify a risk from oral sex are more likely to be published and reported than those which do not, because of the interest and comparative novelty of such a finding.

Despite these hurdles, a few studies have been done linking HIV and fellatio.

But often when people hear that the studies have concluded that the connection only poses a low risk, they think no risk, then ditch the condoms.

What isn't such a low risk is the chance of contracting an STD like gonorrhea, herpes and even syphilis from oral sex. So even if the HIV argument hasn't convinced you to wrap up, maybe the much greater likelihood of contracting one of these other infections will!

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