Let’s face it: Sex education in America is flimsy at best, but with access to an entire online world at your fingertips, it’s getting easier and easier to become more educated — that is, if you know what you are looking for.
Recently, TikTok user @junahealth posted this TikTok sex show, advising viewers that it’s fine to rinse your mouth after oral sex, but advising against brushing your teeth. or floss at least two hours before or after the oral. The video claims that brushing and flossing will create tiny cuts in your mouth, allowing pathogens like HIV to enter your bloodstream.
Naturally, people were shocked:
So I decided to talk to not one, not two, but THREE experts about the validity of this claim. First, I spoke with Rosa Topp, MSN, RN, NPD-BC and the Director of Medical Standards Implementation for the Planned Parenthood Federation of America (PPFA). First, she said it’s important to understand how STIs are transmitted and how to best protect yourself. Typically, STIs are infections that are passed on through oral, vaginal, or anal sex. Topp said, “The best way to prevent transmission of STIs is to avoid skin-to-skin contact by using a barrier method like a condom, dental dam, or latex underwear.”
Topp explained, “Bacteria and/or viruses can live in sexual fluids or on skin or mucous surfaces, and may or may not cause symptoms in the infected person. During oral sex, if barrier methods such as condoms or dental dams are not used, while infected skin or sexual fluid can transmit the bacteria or virus to the mouth or throat of the sexual partner, and an infection can develop there – which , again, may or may not cause symptoms.This means that oral transmission of STDs is still possible if you are not using protection.
Topp said it’s true that certain factors can increase the risk of getting an STI from oral sex, such as poor oral health and bleeding gums. But she clarified: “There are no scientific studies that show whether these factors increase the risk of contracting STIs during oral sex.”
Topp also explained that symptoms can vary depending on the STI, as well as how you became infected. She said: “Each STI and the symptoms that accompany it are different. For example, gonorrhea, a common STI, is mainly transmitted during vaginal, anal or oral sex. Although oral gonorrhea is less common than genital gonorrhea, this happens and may have different symptoms from anal or vaginal gonorrhea.” For example, symptoms of oral gonorrhea may not appear, but if they do, they may present as an itchy throat.
For more information on HIV, I spoke with Dr. Stacey Rizza, executive medical director for international practice, infectious diseases, Mayo Clinic. She said: “We have a very clear understanding of how HIV is transmitted. And it is transmitted through sex, whether it is oral, vaginal or anal, it is transmitted through other blood or bodily fluids. She also added: “Whenever someone has unprotected sex, whether oral, vaginal or anal, they are at risk of becoming infected with HIV if they do not know the HIV status of their partner, no matter what.”
I also spoke with Dr. Zainab Mackie, a general dentist practicing in Grosse Pointe, Michigan. Dr. Mackie said that although brushing and flossing can eventually cause microscopic cuts in the mouth, the best way to prevent this is to brush and floss regularly. She explained, “The healthier your gums are, the firmer they are and the less likely they are to bleed.” Dr. Mackie also added that while doing so, be sure to be gentle. She said: “Any flossing or vigorous brushing will create cuts.”
Dr. Mackie also echoed previous statements from Dr. Rizza and Dr. Topp. She said: “The risk factors are unknown and/or if there has been no use of a physical barrier. For example, if you don’t know the history and general health of your partner, it’s best to take those extra precautions.” Dr Mackie also said that in order to protect yourself against oral STIs you should see your dentist for regular check-ups and said: “It is also important to see your dentist to make sure there are no sores or injuries such as biting cheeks.”
The CDC reported that more than 85% of sexually active adults ages 18 to 44 reported having had at least one oral sex with a partner of the opposite sex. However, the Journal of Adolescent Health reported that less than 10% of teens and young adults surveyed used protection during oral sex.
It is often mistakenly believed that oral transmission of STIs is less common or less severe than those transmitted vaginally or anally. Dr Topp said: “Because there is no risk of pregnancy, many people avoid safe sex practices like condoms during oral sex. When it comes to HIV specifically, oral sex is much safer than vaginal or anal sex, but other infections like gonorrhea, herpes, syphilis, HPV, chlamydia, and Hepatitis B can still be spread through oral sex.” So even if you reduce your risk of getting HIV from oral sex, you are still putting yourself at risk for other infections.
Dr. Rizza concluded that one of the best ways to ensure that you or your partner are not at risk of transmitting STIs or HIV is to get tested regularly. She said: “We recommend the two of you (yourself and your partner) go together to get tested for sexually transmitted infections, including HIV, and show you the results.” Dr. Rizza said that if you and your partner are in a monogamous relationship and find that you are both negative, then it would be reasonable to stop using condoms, if desired.
Dr Topp echoed that point and said getting tested is also key because STI infections don’t always manifest physically, so you might not even know you have one. She said: “Many people with STIs have no symptoms but can still pass the infection on to others. Knowing your status can protect you and your partner(s).”
Dr. Topp also added that open communication between you and your partner about your status is not only important for your sex life, but also for your relationship. She said: “Knowing your STI status can help you and your partner(s) feel more relaxed, which can strengthen your relationship and improve intimacy in your intimate and sexual experiences.”
Sex education is often considered a taboo, with many programs providing missing information, to the detriment of those involved. Dr Rizza said: “Especially as an infectious disease doctor and HIV provider, I strongly recommend safer sex conversations in education. I think that’s what we need to do to prevent transmissions. and eventually ending the pandemic.” Dr Topp added that especially when talking about transmission of STIs during sex, there can be added embarrassment or shame, which can prevent people from being properly educated and even getting tested.
The most recent CDC analysis reported that one in five people in the United States has an STI. Despite this, there is an unnecessary stigma attached to getting tested. Dr Topp said: “The stigma around STIs is harmful to everyone, whether or not you have an STI. Stigma doesn’t prevent STIs – in fact, it does the opposite. Stigma makes it harder to Doing the very things we know can actually prevent STIs: get tested, use barrier methods during sex, and talk openly with your partners about STI status and testing. IST is one of the best ways to help keep us and the people we know healthy.”
She also added that sex education is essential and said, “Sex education is extremely important in the fight against STI stigma. Sex education gives people medically accurate, age-appropriate information and answers to their questions about sex and relationships, without shame or judgment. . It has been proven to have a positive impact on the lives of young people.
I spoke with Peter Arian, the head of Juna Health, a company that offers STD testing by mail and posted the TikTok video, who said the inspiration for the company was to provide the ability to get tested. “I felt like being able to provide home testing was really kind of a step towards a demographic that really isn’t getting tested proactively.”
Peter also added that Juna was created to provide accessible testing to those who might not have access nearby. He said: “I was surprised how many people reached out to say, basically, like me, we get people who live, like, in Fort Worth, Texas, and they’re not all just not comfortable going into a lab… There’s this kind of accessibility barrier, where a lot of people just don’t feel comfortable being seen going into a lab and get tested, or there’s not a lot (of access to testing), and they have a clinic for that.”
Ultimately, it is important to take precautionary measures against STDs during any sexual contact and to get tested whenever necessary. For more information on STDs, click here.
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