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Oral sex and HIV

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Oral sex is when someone licks or sucks someone else’s genitals. It has very low risk of HIV transmission, but the virus can be passed on this way.

HIV is passed on through sex when infected sexual fluids or blood enter the bloodstream of an HIV negative person. During oral sex this could potentially happen if the mouth, gums and/or throat of the person giving oral sex has cuts and sores or is inflamed or infected.


What is the risk?

According to Public Health England, around 1-3% of sexual HIV transmissions in the UK are because of oral sex. Other studies found that the risk is very low but is not zero.

Unprotected anal and vaginal sex lead to far more HIV infections than oral sex.

If the person giving oral sex has:

  • cuts, sores or abrasions in their mouth or gums
  • a sore throat or infection in the mouth or throat,

the risk is higher, as these could give HIV a route into the bloodstream.


Viral load and infectiousness

If the person receiving oral sex is:

  • HIV positive
  • has a high viral load,
  • has any cuts, sores or inflammation on the genital area,

then the chances of passing on HIV would be higher.

If their viral load is undetectable the risk would be extremely low.

There’s an extremely low risk of passing on HIV through sex, as long as:

  1. the viral load of the HIV positive partner has been undetectable for the past six months,
  2. they are on HIV treatment, and
  3. neither partner has an STI.

Receiving oral sex from someone with HIV

This is considered to be an extremely low risk, and infection would really only be possible if someone with HIV was giving someone oral sex when their mouth was bleeding.


Performing oral sex on a man with HIV

There’s a potential risk if an HIV negative person performs oral sex on a man with HIV if his viral load is not undetectable.

This risk increases if his infected pre-cum or semen gets into the other person’s mouth.

Avoid getting semen in your mouth - all but one of the cases where someone has been infected with HIV through oral sex took place when the HIV positive person ejaculated into their mouth.


Performing oral sex on a woman with HIV

This carries a very small risk, which can be cut by holding a latex barrier over her vagina (either a dental dam, or - much cheaper - a condom cut into a square).

Oral sex during her period carries a greater risk.


Oral sex advice for people who don’t have HIV

The risk from oral sex increases if you have:

  • a throat infection (including an STI in the throat)
  • damage to the lining of the mouth or throat
  • had recent dental work or your gums bleed a lot.

Avoid performing oral sex while you have any of the above.

Don’t floss or brush teeth before oral sex (use gum or rub tooth paste on your teeth). Regular check-ups for STIs will pick up infections in your throat.

A condom removes the small risk from oral sex with a man; flavoured ones taste better.

By cutting down on the number of oral sex partners, you make the very small HIV risk even lower.

Remember that other STIs can also be passed on through oral sex, including herpes, gonorrhoea, chlamydia and syphilis.


More information and support:


Unprotected sex and HIV ››

 

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The Information Standard: Certified member

This article was last reviewed on 1/6/2016 by Anna Peters

Date due for the next review: 1/6/2019

Content Author: R. Scholey

Current Owner: Kerri Virani

More information:

Transmission from mouth to genitals, NAM

Factors influencing risk, NAM

How could HIV infect the mouth and throat?, NAM

Oral sex, NAM

EAGA/BHIVA Extremely low risk with undetectable viral load 

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