Anyone who engages in oral sex with a partner who has a sexually transmitted disease (STD) is at risk of contracting an oral STD. Most people assume that sexually transmitted diseases can only spread through vaginal or anal sex. However, having any type of skin to skin contact with the genital area is sufficient to pass on an STD to the partner. Oral sex using tongue, lips, or mouth also, therefore, pose the same risk as actual sexual intercourse. Oral sex is prevalent in sexually active adults of any orientation and age. However, if either of the partners has an STD, then the disease can affect the tissues surrounding the mouth. The most common oral STDs are chlamydia, gonorrhea, herpes, and syphilis. Read on to find out what are the symptoms of oral STDs.
Risks of Oral Sex
Most people assume that they can only catch a sexually transmitted disease only if they indulge in vaginal or anal intercourse. However, any type of skin-to-skin contact with the genital area of the partner is sufficient to pass on any form of communicable sexual disease. This means that having oral sex using your tongue, lips, or mouth also carries the same risks as other forms of sexual activities.(1)
According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there are over 20 million new cases of STDs that affect people in the United States every year.(2)
These diseases are very much preventable by using a genital or dental condom for every sexual encounter you have.
Sexually transmitted diseases that get transmitted through oral sex are known to infect various parts of the body. These include:
Here are some of the most common oral STDs, their symptoms, and how they can be treated.
Chlamydia is a common sexually transmitted disease that is caused by a bacteria known as chlamydia trachomatis.(3) It is one of the most common bacterial STDs in the world, and especially in the United States. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in 2015 reported receiving over 1.5 million reports of Chlamydia infections.(4)
Chlamydia is easily transmitted through oral sex, but it is more common to be passed on by vaginal or anal sex. Chlamydia affects the genitals, urinary tract, throat, and rectum. If a person has chlamydia infection in the throat, then it may feel like they have a sore throat, and the disease often gets dismissed because of this. Chlamydia infection in the throat, though, is quite rare.
Chlamydia infections usually do not have any symptoms. However, chlamydia infection of the genitals, rectum, or the urinary tract may have the following symptoms:
- Pain in the rectum
- Burning sensation when urinating
- Unusual discharge such as blood or pus, from the penis, vagina, or rectum
- Pain or swelling in the testicles
- Lower belly pain
- Pain during sex
- Bleeding between periods
- Abnormal vaginal discharge (it may be yellowish with a foul odor)
- In some cases, chlamydia may also affect the eyes. You may experience itching, redness, or discharge from the eyes.
- Chlamydia is not a lifelong infection and it can be treated successfully with antibiotics.(5)
Gonorrhea is another common oral STD that is caused by the Neisseria gonorrhoeae bacteria.(6) It is commonly known as ‘the clap,’ and it can be passed on through oral sex. However, it is more common for this bacterial infection to be transmitted through vaginal or anal sex. Gonorrhea is known to affect your throat, urinary tract, rectum, and genitals.
Similar to chlamydia, gonorrhea of the throat also does not usually show any symptoms, and if symptoms do appear, it often happens a week after being exposed to the bacteria. Just like chlamydia, the symptom also includes a sore throat.
Symptoms of gonorrhea tend to appear within 2 days to 14 days after the initial exposure. Some people, though, do not develop any noticeable symptoms. However, even if a person does not show any symptoms, they will still remain a carrier and can spread the Gonorrhea infection to their partner.(7)
Men usually do not develop any noticeable symptoms of Gonorrhea for many weeks, and many do not develop any symptoms at all. The first prominent sign of gonorrhea in men is a painful or burning sensation while passing urine. As the infection progresses, other symptoms in men include:
- A persistent sore throat
- Higher frequency and urgency of urination
- Redness or swelling at the opening of the penis
- Pain or swelling in the testicles
- Pus-like discharge from the penis (it may be white, yellow, greenish, or beige in color)
In rare cases, pain due to gonorrhea may also spread to the rectum in men.
Symptoms in women are usually mild or similar to the symptoms of other bacterial infections, which makes it challenging to diagnose gonorrhea in women. Many women also never develop any visible signs of gonorrhea.
Symptoms of Gonorrhea in Women Include:
- Sore throat
- Heavier periods
- Spotting between periods
- Need to urinate more frequently
- Burning or pain while urinating
- Discharge from the vagina (it may be creamy, watery, or greenish in color)
- Sharp pain in the lower abdomen
- Pain while having sex
It is possible to treat gonorrhea with antibiotics. However, in recent years, there has been an increase in drug-resistant gonorrhea around the world. If you find that your symptoms do not go away after completing the full course of antibiotics, then it is necessary to get yourself retested.(8)
Syphilis is another bacterial sexually transmitted disease that is caused by the bacteria Treponema pallidum.(9) It is also a common cause of oral STDs, and it is perhaps one of the most contagious STDs around. Syphilis affects the lips, mouth, throat, anus, genitals, and rectum.
The symptoms of syphilis occur in stages. In oral syphilis, the first stage is usually the appearance of sores in and around the mouth and throat. The second state includes a skin rash, fever, and swollen lymph glands.
The latent stage of syphilis can last for several years, during which time the person will not show any symptoms. In fact, in some people, even after the initial infection, the syphilis bacteria tend to remain inactive or dormant for decades before suddenly becoming active again.
The third stage of syphilis can potentially affect the brain, eyes, nerves, heart, liver, bones, joints, and blood vessels.
If syphilis is left untreated, then the bacteria continues to remain in the body and can go on to cause severe health issues, including organ damage and neurological damage. It is also possible for the infection to spread to the fetus during pregnancy. In such cases, the risk of having a stillbirth or other severe complications during pregnancy is very high. Syphilis during pregnancy is commonly referred to as gestational syphilis.(10)(11)
Each stage of syphilis has different symptoms. Let’s take a look:
Symptoms of Stage 1 Syphilis
- Firm round sores appear at the site of the infection (they are usually painless)
- These sores last for four to six weeks and can heal by themselves.
- After the sores heal, the infection is still present, and the person is still a carrier for the STD
Symptoms of Stage 2 Syphilis
- Rough, red rash on the skin
- Swollen lymph nodes
- Sores in and around the mouth, anus, or genitals
- Sore throat
- Reddish-brownish spots on the palms of the hands or soles of the feet
- Hair loss
- Muscle pain
- Weight loss
Even if you don’t receive treatment for these symptoms, and they tend to clear up on their own, it is still essential to get treated. Only the right treatment will remove the infection and prevent it from transmitting to others and from progressing to the later stages.
- Latent Stage
- There are no symptoms during this stage
Symptoms of Stage 3 Syphilis
Most people do not go on to develop phase 3 of syphilis. However, it can still happen after being symptom-free for 10 to 30 years after initial exposure.(12) If someone does go on to develop stage three syphilis, then there are many severe complications by this stage, including:
- Changes in vision
- Damage to internal organs
- Damage to nerves
Syphilis can be effectively treated with antibiotics. The earlier the treatment is started, the easier it is to cure STD. Many doctors use a penicillin injection for treating syphilis.(13)
Human Papillomavirus (HPV)
HPV is another common STD in the world, and in fact, it is the most common sexually transmitted disease in the United States, with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimating that there are nearly 80 million Americans who are currently infected with the human papillomavirus.(14)
This virus is also capable of spreading through oral sex and even through vaginal or anal sex. HPV is known to affect the genitals, mouth, throat, rectum, and anus.
In many cases, there are no visible symptoms of an HPV infection. However, HPV can cause the following symptoms:
- Warts in the throat
- Warts on and around the anus or genitals
- Vocal changes
- Shortness of breath
- Difficulty speaking
If the infection causes warts in the throat, it makes it difficult for the person to speak or breathe. People who have an HPV infection in the throat can also pass on the virus to their partners through oral sex.
Some types of HPV infections that infect the throat and mouth do not cause warts, but they may lead to neck or head cancer.
There is no cure for HPV, but the virus may sometimes disappear by itself within two to three years of infection.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved a vaccine for human papillomavirus infections in 2006 for children and young adults who are between 11 to 26 years. The vaccine helps prevent infection from some of the most commonly observed high-risk strains of HPV. These strains of HPV are known to be associated with anal, cervical, head, and neck cancers.(15)
The Herpes Simplex Virus (HSV) causes herpes, one of the most well-known sexually transmitted diseases in the world. Herpes is transmitted through sexual intercourse, and it causes anal or genital herpes. It is possible to catch herpes through oral sex, causing herpes esophagitis in some people, though it is a rare condition.(16)
Some of the symptoms of herpes esophagitis are:
- Difficulty swallowing
- Open sores in the mouth
- A general feeling of being unwell
In most cases of genital or anal herpes, the infection does not produce any symptoms, or a person may experience very mild symptoms. The main symptoms of a herpes infection include:
- Swollen lymph nodes
- Body ache
- Itchy and painful sores around the genital area, mouth, or rectum
Herpes is a lifelong infection, and you carry the virus even if you do not experience any of the symptoms. Treatment helps reduce or prevent outbreaks, but also with treatment, people can still spread herpes to their sexual partners.
There are many types of oral STDs that people can contract or transmit from having oral sex. Using a condom or a dental dam can help protect against many oral STDs. If you have contracted an STD, then it is essential that you abstain from having sexual relations for the time being while your treatment is going on. This will prevent transmission to others and also prevent any complications.
Using the appropriate prevention methods and receiving treatment when you feel you might be infected, is the best way to continue to enjoy oral sex, but without having to worry about the risk of STDs.
- Bruce, A.J. and Rogers III, R.S., 2004. Oral manifestations of sexually transmitted diseases. Clinics in dermatology, 22(6), pp.520-527.
- Cdc.gov. (2020). [online] Available at: https://www.cdc.gov/nchhstp/newsroom/docs/factsheets/std-trends-508.pdf [Accessed 13 Feb. 2020].
- Bébéar, C. and De Barbeyrac, B., 2009. Genital Chlamydia trachomatis infections. Clinical Microbiology and Infection, 15(1), pp.4-10.
- Cdc.gov. (2020). STD Data and Statistics. [online] Available at: https://www.cdc.gov/std/stats15/tables/1.htm [Accessed 13 Feb. 2020].
- Miller, K.E., 2006. Diagnosis and treatment of Chlamydia trachomatis infection. American family physician, 73(8), pp.1411-1416.
- Kellogg, D.S., Peacock, W.L., Deacon, W.E., Brown, L. and Pirkle, C.I., 1963. NEISSERIA GONORRHOEAE I.: Virulence Genetically Linked to Clonal Variation. Journal of bacteriology, 85(6), pp.1274-1279.
- Thatcher, R.W., McCraney, W.T., Kellogg, D.S. and Whaley, W.H., 1969. Asymptomatic gonorrhea. JAMA, 210(2), pp.315-317.
- Unemo, M. and Nicholas, R.A., 2012. Emergence of multidrug-resistant, extensively drug-resistant and untreatable gonorrhea. Future microbiology, 7(12), pp.1401-1422.
- Fraser, C.M., Norris, S.J., Weinstock, G.M., White, O., Sutton, G.G., Dodson, R., Gwinn, M., Hickey, E.K., Clayton, R., Ketchum, K.A. and Sodergren, E., 1998. Complete genome sequence of Treponema pallidum, the syphilis spirochete. Science, 281(5375), pp.375-388.
- Arnesen, L., Serruya, S. and Duran, P., 2015. Gestational syphilis and stillbirth in the Americas: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Revista Panamericana de Salud Pública, 37, pp.422-429.
- Sheffield, J.S., Sánchez, P.J., Morris, G., Maberry, M., Zeray, F., McIntire, D.D. and Wendel Jr, G.D., 2002. Congenital syphilis after maternal treatment for syphilis during pregnancy. American journal of obstetrics and gynecology, 186(3), pp.569-573.
- Cdc.gov. (2020). STD Facts – Syphilis. [online] Available at: https://www.cdc.gov/std/syphilis/stdfact-syphilis.htm [Accessed 13 Feb. 2020].
- Moore, J.E., Mahoney, J.F., Schwartz, W., Sternberg, T. and Wood, W.B., 1944. The treatment of early syphilis with penicillin: A preliminary report of 1,418 cases. Journal of the American Medical Association, 126(2), pp.67-73.
- Cdc.gov. (2020). STD Facts – Human papillomavirus (HPV). [online] Available at: https://www.cdc.gov/std/hpv/stdfact-hpv.htm [Accessed 14 Feb. 2020].
- Munoz, N., 2000. Human papillomavirus and cancer: the epidemiological evidence. Journal of clinical virology, 19(1-2), pp.1-5.
- Levine, M.S., Laufer, I., Kressel, H.Y. and Friedman, H.M., 1981. Herpes esophagitis. American Journal of Roentgenology, 136(5), pp.863-866.
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