So we’ve all been taught that we should use condoms for vaginal or anal sex because sexually transmitted infections can be spread that way. But do we need to use a condom for oral? Or a dental dam (thin sheet of latex that you can lick through)?
The risks of oral sex
So you may or may not know that it is possible to get some STIs from oral sex (that’s licking or sucking someone’s penis, clitoris, vulva, or anus). There isn’t a lot of evidence about exactly which kinds and how likely it is that you can catch STIs from oral. However, my friends at FPA (in this really helpful article about the risks of oral, thanks FPA!) reckon that there is less chance of getting an STI from oral than from unprotected vaginal or anal sex.
The FPA also say that the three most likely STIs to be caught from oral are: Herpes (most common), Gonorrhoea and Syphilis. Out of these the most common (in the UK) is Herpes – gonorrhoea and syphilis are much less common generally. And as I say in this post Herpes is one of the less dangerous STIs around (although it’s probably a good idea to try and avoid getting it if you can).
So it looks like, at first glance, oral sex is safer than other kinds of sex. However, remember, you can get an STI from someone that has got one (or you can also give someone an STI if you have one). So your risks are going to be different depending on who you have sex with (as they are for all kinds of sex).
Do you need to use a dam or a condom for oral?
If you or your partner have an infection that can be passed on through sex, you are more at risk from oral without condoms or dams. So if you or your partner does have an infection then it’s a good idea to use condoms or dams to prevent getting or giving them, or avoid unprotected oral if you are infectious (e.g. you have, or are about to have a blister or rash).
Sometimes people know they have an infection and sometimes they don’t know (because often STIs don’t have recognisable symptoms). Sometimes people may have an infection and not tell the other person. For this reason it might be worth you going to a sexual health service and having a chat with a health adviser or someone else who can give you some one-to-one advice.
Particular STIs that may be transmitted orally might be more common with particular people. For example I used to work in a local clinic where there were loads of cases of an infection in that area that can be passed on orally that is not at all common across the UK. This is how STIs work, they affect a bunch of people who are all having sex with each other. This can be where they live, or which kinds of people they have sex with. So a sexual health clinic might be able to give you some advice about whether you should be using condoms or not for oral. These risks are the same for oral sex on the anus, but there are risks of other infections from this too.
When you’re thinking about the risks of sex you should also think about the rewards too. Most things that are worth doing involve taking some risks. With sex we can reduce the risks until they are very low indeed, but there are always some risks of some kind. You need to weigh up the risks of getting an infection from unprotected oral sex with the pleasure of what unprotected oral gives you. So read up more about STIs here.
How to make it easier to use a condom for oral
A lot of people don’t want to use condoms for oral because they don’t worry about the risks. However, I think that more people would be up for using dams or condoms for oral if it was easier to do. So here are a few reasons why people find using them difficult with some hot takes from me about how to make them easier.
Dams are impossible to get hold of
Dams are difficult to get hold of and they are oddly expensive. This is strange given that all they are is a thin sheet of latex or plastic. That said many clinics give them away for free if they think that you are at risk of getting/giving an infection from oral sex.
If you can’t get hold of dams you can use a condom torn in half length ways. I just tried it and it totally works. Just unravel a condom, bite or tear the bottom bit and then rip it apart down the length of the condom. It will form a rough rectangle that you can place on the other person. You can also use cling film (in the US it’s called Saran Wrap) which will do the same thing. Get the non-microwavable stuff as a) it’s cheap and b) it doesn’t have the micro-holes in, so will give you more protection.
Faff/Killing the moment
This is thing generally when people use condoms. They can be a faff to open, to handle, to get the right way round. I’ve got loads of advice about dealing with this stuff here.
It’s a fact that to use condoms on penises they need to be reasonably hard – especially if you are going to use them for vaginal or anal sex – probably 7 – 10 on the hardon™ scale. Penises are often not that hard for oral sex – in fact some people like to have their penis licked or sucked to get hard. So how to deal with using condoms in this situation?
If you are just having oral sex then you could still try and get a condom on a semi-erect penis – like 3 – 6 Hardon™. It wouldn’t be on perfectly but it will do for oral sex. However you could also treat penises like they are clitorises (which they pretty much are anyway) and use a dam. Place the rubber or plastic over the sensitive bit of the penis and lick or such through that bit. If the penis gets harder then there’s no reason why you couldn’t just continue to wrap the dam around the penis (if this remains comfortable). However you would need to switch to a condom if you were then going to have vaginal or anal sex.
Don’t like the taste
If you’re not so into the taste of rubber or plastic, or the lubricant that can come with them, you could try some flavoured lubricant (this is what it’s for). Also if you are just using a condom for oral you could put anything on it that takes your fancy: jam, chocolate, peanut butter, whipped cream, carbonara sauce. Remember that oil based things can make latex tear, so be careful. Also don’t insert a peanut butter covered thing inside someone’s vagina or anus.
One advantage for condoms and dams is that they can cover up the taste of penises, vulvas and anuses – some people don’t like the taste or smell, so this can help them with that.
Doesn’t feel as good for the receiver
Yeah well, maybe a barrier between the other person’s mouth and their bits maybe doesn’t feel as good for some people. To make it feel a bit more sensitive you can put a dab of lubricant on the inside of the condom or dam and then lick the outside. That can feel really nice.
Also many people find that they prefer wearing condoms because oral sex can be too sensitive. Using condoms can prevent the accidental grazing of teeth against the sensitive bit. It can also help oral sex last longer – some people orgasm very quickly from oral and condoms can help prolong the moment.
More sex stuff
Hard Ons – read about how random they are
Sex Infections – read about STIs with a solemn promise from me that there are no pictures of diseased bits
Consent, Innit – having a moment to get a condom or dam out also gives you a moment to check in about consent …
If you want to geek out about this stuff some more, here are some interesting articles.
Facts and figures for STIs from FPA
This really really great report on STIs from Natsal 3
This interesting report on why youngs don’t use condoms for oral
© Justin Hancock, 2017