What type protection is necessary for oral sex?
A: Most sex ed instructors tell people to use condoms or dental dams when having oral sex. For those who don't know, dental dams are thin squares of latex or polyurethane (the same materials that are used to make condoms) and can be used to drape over the penis or vulva while having oral sex. Condoms and dental dams can help prevent the spread of some sexually transmitted infections. However, the truth is that almost no one uses these when having sex. It's rare that dental dams can even be found at sex shops.
For the most part, oral sex is relatively safe. There is certainly no way to get pregnant from having oral sex and there aren't many STIs that can be transmitted through oral sex either. The biggest risk is contracting oral herpes (herpes simplex 1). However, a majority of people contract oral herpes during the lifetime and it's not dangerous. Oral herpes tends to results in only a few cold sore outbreaks during a person's life. Most people with oral herpes don't show any symptoms at all. One can get some other STIs through oral sex, such as gonorrhea or HPV, but these cases are fairly rare. Also, a very easy way to prevent getting HPV by any means is to get vaccinated for it.
In short, don't worry too much about contracting STIs when having oral sex. It's a good idea to get to know your sex partner beforehand, so that you can know if you're particularly at risk of contracting an STI from them. But, oral sex is generally a very safe way to have sex.
Answers provided by Dr. Ross Avilla
Dr. Ross Avilla has been teaching Human Sexuality since 2013 and has a PhD in psychology from UC Davis. Dr. Avilla is not a clinician and all information and advice offered on this website is for educational purposes only.