Can you get HIV through oral sex?

Many people find oral sex an extremely pleasurable experience. However, many are tormented by the question: “Is HIV transmitted through oral sex?” To find out the answer, read our article.

Oral sex and HIV

The likelihood of transmission of the immunodeficiency virus from a person living with HIV to an HIV-negative person depends on the type of sexual contact and the viral load of the person living with HIV.

The main routes of HIV transmission are: anal sex, vaginal sex, sharing injection equipment and from mother to child .  It is much less likely that you will become infected with HIV during oral sex, but it is possible in some circumstances.

Circumstances that influence the likelihood of contracting HIV through oral sex include the viral load of the person living with HIV and the health of the teeth and gums of the partner performing oral sex.

It's also worth remembering that other sexually transmitted infections, such as syphilis, herpes and gonorrhea, can be easily transmitted through oral sex. Therefore, all sexually active people are strongly recommended to regularly examine their sexual health.

HIV is unable to infect most cells in the mouth because only one type of cell, found in the mouth, is vulnerable to HIV infection. Also, the tissues of the mouth and esophagus are very thick compared to the genital tissues, so fluids come into contact with them for a very short time as swallowing regularly cleanses the mouth. In this regard, contracting HIV through oral sex is considered an unlikely route of transmission of this infection.

Essentially, the risk of contracting HIV through oral sex only exists for the person giving blowjob to an HIV-positive partner. If a man has an HIV-negative status and, at the same time, an HIV-positive sexual partner gives him a blowjob , the risk of infection is minimal.

Factors influencing the risk of infection

Case reports have helped identify factors that influence the likelihood of HIV transmission through oral sex. These factors include:

  • bleeding gums, cuts or sores in the mouth;
  • inflammation caused by common throat infections, allergies, or sexually transmitted infections (STIs) such as gonorrhea;
  • presence of genital piercings or lesions;
  • high level of viral load in an HIV-infected partner.

All of these factors can affect tissue susceptibility to infection and/or make it easier for the virus to gain access to the bloodstream and immune tissues.

For example, brushing teeth and gums often causes mild abrasions and encourages bleeding. Therefore, if you have recently brushed your teeth, the risk of infection through oral sex increases.

However, the risk of HIV transmission through vaginal or anal sex is virtually zero if a person with HIV is on treatment and has a completely suppressed viral load . It makes sense that if HIV is not transmitted through anal or vaginal intercourse when the viral load is undetectable, the same applies to oral sex.

Reducing the likelihood of contracting HIV through oral sex

There are several ways to reduce the chance of contracting HIV through oral sex. Let us immediately note that the presented methods will be more acceptable for some people than others, so each person should choose options that are suitable for them to reduce the risk of contracting HIV through oral sex. However, most of the options below can provide protection not only against HIV infection, but also against other sexually transmitted infections:

  • Reduce the number of partners with whom you perform oral sex;
  • have protected oral sex with a barrier such as condoms;
  • do not ejaculate into your partner’s mouth and refuse the option when ejaculation occurs in your mouth;
  • avoid oral sex during menstruation;
  • take care of your mouth. The likelihood of infection through oral sex increases with bleeding gums, mouth ulcers, or cuts. Do not brush your teeth or floss immediately before oral sex;
  • Check your sexual health regularly. This will help identify the presence of sexually transmitted infections and reduce the chance of contracting HIV if you are HIV negative.

If you are living with HIV, take treatment as directed by your doctor to maintain an undetectable viral load , which is the most effective way to prevent HIV transmission.

If you are HIV negative and are concerned that you may be infected with HIV, consider pre-exposure prophylaxis .

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