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At Steady Health, we respond to serious questions with serious answers. Here are 10 things our readers want to know about the health hazards, or lack of them, from swallowing semen. For our readers who aren't quite sure, "fellatio" refers to the act of oral sex on a man by either a male or female partner.
1. Oral sex is a lower-risk sexual activity, but it is not a risk-free sexual activity.
Oral sex can transmit certain kinds of sexually transmitted diseases, but it can also transmit colds and flu viruses and the germs that cause soft tissue infections. Cuts and sores in the mouth of the partner performing oral sex and on the penis of the partner receiving oral sex offer easy entry to infectious microorganisms into bloodstream, even if they aren't visible to the naked eye. Chapped lips and sores on the lips also receive and transmit infection, as can gums damaged by gingivitis.
2. A male receiving fellatio can receive infections from his partner performing oral sex.
Certain kinds of infections can be passed from the mouth of the partner performing fellatio to the man receiving it. This is particularly true of gonorrhea and chlamydia. In a study of men who have sex with men in San Francisco which focused on men who only receive oral sex, never giving it, about 4.1% were found to have become infected with chlamydia and about 4.8% were found to have become infected with gonorrhea, without having performed oral sex on another man. There were similar rates of these infections in men who reported only have active anal sex with other men.
3. Transmission of HIV during unprotected oral sex is rare but not impossible.
The virus that causes AIDS is relatively seldom transmitted during oral sex. There are relatively few of the kind of white blood cell, the CD4+ cell, that HIV infects, in the gums and in the lining of the mouth. If the lining of the mouth and throat are intact, there is relatively little risk of the partner performing fellatio's catching the disease. There are only a few known cases of men getting infected with HIV while receiving a blow job without wearing a condom. However, the presence of cuts, scratches, sores, or abrasions, including abrasions from friction due to excessive sexual activity, can create tiny passageways for the virus. Cavities in the teeth can also become an entryway for the virus. There is much greater risk of exposure to the virus from semen than from saliva.
4. Transmission of herpes during unprotected oral sex is very possible, and not especially unusual.
When someone is infected with the herpesvirus, he or she remains capable of infecting others even when there aren't any active sores. Although there hasn't been a new survey since 1993, the last time a study of genital herpes was conducted in the USA, antibodies to the infection were found in 45% of African-Americans, 22% of Mexican-Americans, and 17% of white Americans. Nearly all Americans of any race have been exposed to the milder form of herpes that causes cold sores. It is possible to transmit a cold sore from the mouth to the penis, although this does not always happen after contact.