Last week, the Center for Disease Control reported that teens and young adults have more oral sex than vaginal intercourse (as we mentioned in the NSFW Sunday). According to the report, this discrepancy is a result of a desire to maintain virginity, avoid pregnancy and avoid risk of contracting a sexually transmitted infection. But the CDC notes that because young people perceive oral sex as a risk-free behavior, they are “placing themselves at risk of STIs or HIV before they are ever at risk of pregnancy.”
But just what are the risks and how risky are they? While the CDC has yet to gather data on the actual frequency of STIs contracted through oral sex, Tracy Clark-Flory of Salon.com suggests we look at the way each STI is transmitted. Saliva does not carry HIV, but your mouth is a mucous membrane, and according to Gay Men’s Health, “cells in the mucous lining of the mouth may carry HIV into the lymph nodes or the bloodstream.” Clark-Flory writes that while HIV may be people’s biggest fear, it’s actually easier to transmit herpes, gonorrhea, chlamydia, syphilis and HPV. Less risky but still possible are Hepatitis A, gastrointestinal infections, and parasites.
While the CDC study includes race-based stats, the intersectionality of the report stops there: this is a report of on the prevalence of oral sex solely among opposite-sex partners. But the truth, of course, is that health risks associated with oral sex are extremely relevant to the interests of the queer community. It seems that in general, blow jobs are riskier than cunnilingus, but according to Professor Christopher Hurt of the Division of Infectious Diseases at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, you are just as likely to contract syphilis, herpes, or HPV from a vagina as from a penis, “Since these infections can occur both inside the vagina and on the skin surface.” So queers, please take note: being on a vagina-only diet does not a risk-free lifestyle make.
Obviously, not everyone prefers only vagina or only penis, which is great! It’s also an important thing to keep in mind when you are deciding whether or not to use protection with a partner. What we can take from this study is that a queer person who encounters penises in their mouth is more likely in general to have contracted an STI than a queer person who doesn’t. So if you or your partner fits this description, you might consider taking an extra measure of protection. And if you have multiple partners, it’s even more important, because your risk increases with every additional person you add to your sexual network.
If you don’t use protection with your partner, you are what is known as “fluid-bonded.” This means that you have agreed to share your bodily fluids with each other. And with that agreement, much like the power to shoot webs from your hands, comes great responsibility. You should definitely get tested before doing so — if you don’t have health insurance, get on the internet and find your nearest free health clinic. If you’re in college, your health center should provide testing services. It’s possible to be fluid-bonded to one person while having multiple partners whom you are not fluid-bonded to, but you have an obligation to your fluid-bonded partner to use protection with everyone else. The key here is going to be communication. It’s not really fair to the people you are having sex with to have secrets that could put them at risk.
Ok, ok, I know what you’re thinking. We’re always talking about safe sex, but how many people actually practice it? Safe oral sex can be especially daunting for people with vaginas, as it requires a lot more thought than throwing on a condom. Using a dental dam or cutting up a condom for the same purpose requires that you hold it in place, and sometimes the last thing you want is something between your mouth and your partner’s vag. Maybe you worked really hard to get your mouth there after weeks of dramatic build up and now that it’s finally happening, you want to feel all the things, literally. But you guys, part of being a grownup is understanding consequences. The frontal lobe of your brain, which handles just that, won’t finish developing until you’re 25 (I have two more years of this shit to go, so I’m in the same boat). Those of us in our early 20s and under have to think extra hard about the consequences of our actions, since these realizations probably don’t yet come naturally.
But! Safe oral sex doesn’t have to be a total drag. It can be really fun! Having to take some extra steps in planning out your sexual routine and communicating about it can make for really great sex. Don’t get me wrong, spontaneity is great too — but the more you communicate about sex, the greater chance you have for trying new things and expanding your repertoire.
If you are using a dental dam or a modified condom, it helps a lot to use lube on both sides. And flavored, edible lube is totally a thing. If you are worried that sensation will be sacrificed through the protection, grab a vibrator and use it along with your tongue. Just make sure you don’t use silicone-based lube with a silicone toy (and always make sure that neither party is allergic to latex before using latex-based barrier methods or condoms).
Hot tip: non-microwavable saran wrap can be used, as well. And if you are looking for a hands-free experience, why not try making some saran wrap underwear? You can make it right from the roll onto her body. Again, use lube on both sides, and keep some safety scissors nearby in case she wants to take it off in a hurry.
Tell me your favorite ways to have safe and sexy oral sex!