Herpes, Oral Sex and Safe Sex

There is No Such Thing As Safe Sex

Yep, you heard me. There is no such thing as safe sex. There is only Safer sex.  Safe implies that if you are careful, you can protect yourself from pretty much anything. The only way to have completely safe sex is to abstain from sex. When we choose to be sexual with practically anyone (yep, even a virgin, I’ll explain how in a minute) there is risk of transferring bacteria and viruses, along with feelings (ew, feelings). American sex education sucks and one way it really sucks is how it teaches us that STDs are shameful, and also doesn’t explain how to best protect yourself. I was taught that STDs were only things that disgusting, dirty people got and that if you got one your life was pretty much over. This misconception created a deep seated fear in me about STDs, and I found that one of my only sources of shame about sex was the fear of STDs.

So I’m here to tell you how you will transfer bacteria and viruses when having sex of any kind, and how you can actually be safe about it. Because I’m guessing almost all of you have some misconceptions about what is safe.

Ways You Probably Didn’t Know You Can Get an STD


I want to talk about a few special little viruses named herpes (HSV) and HPV. I know you might have been conditioned to cringe at the idea of herpes. TV and movies use it as the butt of sexual shame/slut related jokes. I remember the first time I met someone who told me they had genital herpes. I’m ashamed to say I was thought ‘gross’ in my head. I was wrong. Herpes is not gross. Herpes can be unpleasant and uncomfortable, but so can the chicken pox. And guess what, the chicken pox is a form of herpes.

Diagram Courtesy of Project Accept

HPV is another group of viruses that are spread incredibly easily between people. There is a vaccine that protects you from the most dangerous cancer causing strains. The rest of them are kind of considered the ‘common cold’ of STDs. Everyone will get HPV of one sort or another, and most of the time you won’t have any symptoms. If you want to learn more about HPV this podcast with Sex Nerd Sandra is excellent.

Now that we have what herpes is out of the way, lets talk about oral sex. Oral sex is fun, and you might think a smaller commitment than having penetrative sex with someone. You can transmit HSV, HPV and many of the other common STDs by oral sex. In fact, 1 in 3 new cases of genital herpes can not be attributed to HSV-1 which traditionally was considered the oral herpes virus. If you don’t have cold sores or genital herpes you can contract genital herpes if someone with oral herpes gives you oral sex. Even when they don’t have an active cold sore present. 

Here is a cool list of all the ways you can get an STD without having sex:

  1. Through Oral Sex. An STD can be transmitted to your genitals or can be contracted orally. This means you can either get a genital STD or get an STD infection on your pretty pretty mouth.
  2. Anal sex (maybe a little bit more obvious but worth mentioning).
  3. Any skin to skin contact (The reason HPV is so prevalent is because pretty much any bare skin contact can transmit the virus).
Well how about that

What To Do (And Not Do) About It

Talk about STDs is usually scary. Often times in schools they show you pictures of terrible infections for the exact purpose of scaring you into not having sex (see how well that works out for them).


Understanding how, and when, an STD will be contagious and how it will act in your body is the best weapon against fear, and against getting one. Beyond just prevention, it is important to remember that with proper treatment the majority of STDs are treatable. Learn what risks you are taking and understand them, and then lose the negative talk about STDs. We will share germs with people we love, and the most pain-free way to do this is to stop stigmatizing treatable illnesses.

2 thoughts on “Herpes, Oral Sex and Safe Sex

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