Chlamydia from oral

While oral sex used to be considered taboo, dirty or something that just didn’t happen between “nice” couples, it is now very much a part of sex for many couples. Both heterosexual and homosexual couples find oral sex to be a very pleasurable part of their sexual relationship and it’s something that can keep opposite sex partners safe from unwanted pregnancy. It is also sometimes chosen as a way to be sexual with a partner because it is thought to be less risky than penetrative sex.

Lips can be an important part of sex

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However, as with most other sexual activities, there is a possibility that Chlamydia (Hub page) can be passed between partners through oral sex. It is important that you understand how this works and practice safe oral sex as you would with any other sexual act with a partner.

What is meant by oral sex?

In order to understand how the risks arise from oral sex, it will help to clarify exactly what is meant by the term so that you’re clear on how those risks arise.

There are four main types of sexual activity that could be termed oral sex. The first, sometimes known as “nippling,” involves the licking or sucking of a partner’s nipples. This can be very pleasurable but is a very low risk activity and there is very little chance of passing on infection between partners simply by being in contact with each other’s nipples.

The most commonly discussed type of oral sex is fellatio, also known as a “blow job.” This involves using the mouth, lips and tongue to stimulate the penis and is a common part of the sexual repertoire of both heterosexual and homosexual partners.

Not your typical “blow job”

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Oral sex performed on a woman is cunnilingus, which might be referred to as “going down” on a partner. Again, this is often done between same-sex or opposite sex partners and involves using the lips and tongue to stimulate the vulva, particularly focusing on the clitoris.

The final common kind of oral sex is formally known as oro-anal sex and more often called “rimming.” This is typically less common between opposite-sex partners and tends to be more a feature of same sex couplings. Using the tongue and lips to stimulate the area around the anus can be pleasurable, with the area densely packed with sensitive nerve endings.

As nippling is unlikely to cause a high risk of transmission of any sexually transmitted infection, Chlamydia included, it is the other three that will be the focus of this information.

Infection from oral sex

Unlike with kissing (10 Chlamydia from kissing), which carries a very low risk of passing on the Chlamydia bacteria, oral sex does come with a degree of risk for those who are engaging in the activity of picking up the infection. Anything that brings you into direct contact with your partner’s genitals, and particularly their sexual fluids such as vaginal secretions or semen, carries a risk of passing on the infection.

The Chlamydia bacteria can live in the throat indefinitely and cause a number of problems such as sinus, throat and eye infections that fail to respond to treatment. As people often tend to consider oral sex to be a relatively safe activity, and also to associate sexually transmitted infections with the genital area, the possibility of Chlamydia infection doesn’t usually occur to people with these recurring infections.

Fellatio is thought to be the most common form of oral sex that puts partners at risk of contracting Chlamydia. A study in London of sex workers in 2011 found that 4 per cent of those in the sample group who were tested (4 Chlamydia tests) were found to have Chlamydia in the throat. As many men choose to use sex workers in order to receive oral sex, this is a particularly interesting finding.

The chances of picking up Chlamydia from cunnilingus are thought to be lower, although there is a theoretical risk. When using your mouth somewhere that has secretions from an infected area, there is a possibility that this can transmit the infection.

Going down on a girl may pose less risk

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Oro-anal sex can be risky in terms of contracting a range of infections, but Chlamydia isn’t thought to be top of the list. As you can imagine, the anus is not a particularly clean area of the body and illnesses from salmonella poisoning to genital warts can be passed on any contact between the mouth and the anal area. Although Chlamydia can infect the rectum through unprotected anal sex, the chances of passing it on through oro-anal sex are small.

Keeping yourself safe

While oral sex is considered to be low risk, there is a chance of passing on the Chlamydia infection. The best way to keep yourself safe and still enjoy the pleasures that it can bring as part of sex with a partner is to use barrier methods of protection. Ensuring that you use a condom during fellatio will keep you apart from the semen that can carry the Chlamydia bacteria. Similarly, using a dental dam, a thin sheet of latex similar to a flat condom, can be placed over the vulva or anal area during cunnilingus or oro-anal sex to prevent the transmission of the Chlamydia bacteria.

If you think that you may have been exposed to Chlamydia through oral sex, requesting a swab of your throat as part of the testing process for the bacteria can pick up the infection and allow it to be successfully treated (13 The use of Azithromycin in Chlamydia treatment) before it develops.

Conclusion

The Chlamydia bacteria can be passed between partners during oral sex, but it is most likely to be transmitted during fellatio to the partner’s throat rather than through any other form of oral stimulation. For this reason, it is sensible to use condoms when performing fellatio on a partner to ensure that the bacteria are not passed on.

A sexual health check is likely to include a Chlamydia test but will not automatically include a swab of the mouth or throat to screen for the infection. If you’re worried that your partner may have Chlamydia and you’ve had unprotected oral sex, you can ask at the sexual health or GUM clinic for a test to check that you’re not carrying the bacteria in your throat and at risk of infection.

Image Credits: Helga Weber, Mattys Flicks and Helga Weber