Going down. Giving head. BJs. Rimming. Whatever term you use or method you enjoy, it’s important to stay safe while your head’s in the game.
So here’s the question: Can you get HIV from oral sex?
Answer: A big ol’ maybe.
There’s definitely a chance of getting other STIs like hepatitis when you swap body fluids with another person. But the jury’s still out on whether you can get HIV from oral sex.
HIV is different from other STIs because contracting it requires fluid-to-bloodstream contact. That means it’s usually transferred through cuts or small tears in your nether regions. Maybe that sounds unlikely, but consider what friction could do to delicate, sensitive skin and tissue.
Here’s the lowdown on your risks while going down.
TBH, your risk of getting HIV from any oral sex is super low. You’re much more likely to get it through anal adventures, through vaginal sex, or by sharing needles or syringes (please, just don’t!).
That doesn’t mean it’s impossible, just that there’s little scientific evidence that it’s happened.
Can’t you just gimme the stats?
Not exactly. Most humans enjoy a spectrum of sex acts, so it’s tough to narrow down whether folks who are living with HIV contracted it during oral sex, anal sex, or other methods of transmission.
Fast facts on BJs
- Your risk of getting HIV from a blow job is pretty low.
- If you’re the giver, take heart: A 2002 study suggested that the risk of getting HIV from going down on your partner’s penis is statistically… (drumroll, please!)… zero.
- If you’re on the receiving end, your risk of contracting HIV is still low. That’s because HIV isn’t transmitted through saliva — the enzymes in spit kill any virus bits.
The deets on cunnilingus
Good news! There’s no evidence that you can get HIV from giving or getting mouth-to-vag sex.
- Your risk of getting HIV from tush-to-tongue contact is incredibly low.
- The low risk is even lower when the person who has HIV is the one giving oral — it’s that whole neutralized spit thing again.
Here are some factors that could raise your risk of getting or transmitting HIV:
- Viral load. If you’re living with HIV, you know that viral load refers to how much HIV is in a specific amount of your blood. HIV meds and treatments can help you lower your viral load. A high viral load increases your chance of transmitting HIV to your partner.
- Giving or receiving? The risk of transmission is highest when the person with HIV is on the receiving end. That’s because the giver could have a small cut or sore in their mouth that would increase their risk of contracting the virus.
- Ejaculation. Lots of cum during oral sex could increase your risk of spreading the virus, but it would need to be combined with other risk factors.
- Scratches, cuts, or sores. Any opening to your or your partner’s bloodstream can be a path for HIV transmission. For example, if you’re HIV-positive and have mouth sores, there’s potential for blood-to-fluid contact.
- Period sex. Blood = higher risk of transmitting HIV.
- Urethritis. An irritated urethra increases your risk of contracting or transmitting HIV. It’s best to hold off on sexy times until the inflammation and infection pass.
Cool, so the risk of HIV transmission from oral sex is next to nothing. But taking precautions reduces your risk even more.
If you’re HIV-positive…
Know your viral load. When your viral load is lower, your chance of passing HIV to your partner is lower too.
In a 2013 study, people with HIV reduced their risk of transmitting it to a partner by 96 percent with antiretroviral therapy (ART). Talk to your doctor if you’re interested in ART.
If your boo is HIV-positive…
Pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) is a pill that was created to help prevent HIV transmission. Taking it and using barrier methods greatly reduces your risk of getting HIV from a partner.
If you’ve already done the deed without a condom or dental dam, you can still use post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP) to prevent transmission. According to the HIV.gov, PEP only works if taken within 72 hours of sex. Call your doc stat if this is a good option for you.
Last-minute advice before going down…
- Semen and precum can carry HIV, so agree to tell your partner when you’re about to ejaculate (or vice versa). If you’re performing oral sex on a partner with a penis, turn your face just before the Big O to avoid mouth-to-cum exposure.
- Condoms or dental dams? Pick your poison, and then use it during oral sex. If you’re switching spots, like vag to anus, stay safe and clean by getting a new barrier.
- Lube keeps the action sexy and safe, even during oral sex. That’s because lube prevents friction, which is what causes tears — in delicate body tissue and in condoms.
- Be gentle with your partner’s skin and genitals. Try to keep your teeth from scratching, which could expose you to blood.
- Flossed too hard last night? Got a canker sore? If there’s any chance you have a cut or sore in your mouth, save the BJs and rim jobs for another day.
Honesty is the best policy
The best way to protect yourself or your partner during oral sex is to keep it 100. Be clear about your HIV status, and ask your partner to be clear about theirs.
If you’re not sure about your status, get tested. In fact, it’s best for both you and your partner(s) to get STI tests on the reg.
PSA on dental hygiene: Make it a priority. Taking care of your teeth and gums could prevent bleeding gums, mouth sores, or other issues that increase your risk of getting HIV during oral sex.
- HIV is transmitted when the bodily fluids of someone who is HIV-positive get into the bloodstream of someone who is HIV-negative.
- The risk of contracting HIV from giving or getting a blow job is incredibly low.
- There’s no evidence that a person can get HIV through mouth-to-vagina contact.
- The risk of getting HIV from “rimming” (mouth-to-anus contact) is very low.
- There’s no risk of contracting HIV from swapping saliva, but it’s best to postpone oral sex if one or both partners have mouth cuts or sores.