By Kelsey Duchesne
In the name of decreasing health risks and social stigmas.
Sexual health related topics circulate through THINX HQ faster than free snacks, which isn’t surprising given our line of work (we set aside specific times to create period puns, so yeah, there is a definite level of trust and intimacy, here.) Recently, the subject of oral sex came up, and prompted one of the most dynamic conversations we’ve had, because we all had our own unique interpretation to what oral sex is.
For some of us, oral sex counts as sex, for others, it's considered foreplay. Some of us only orgasm during oral sex, while some confirmed that penetration was necessary. Oral sex was a different experience to everyone, but there was one common link that we all shared-- most of us had rarely, if ever, used protection during oral sex, whether it be a condom or dental dam. Buzzfeed spoke to sex therapist Dr. Madeleine M. Castellano, who confirmed that only roughly 10% of women use dental dams, and the American Sexual Health Association reported a national survey in which 82% of adults reported not using protection during oral sex.
We thought about why this percentage was so high. Perhaps it's because our health class in high school often left out oral sex education-- not one of us could remember our health teachers ever discussing either fellatio or cunnilingus. Even today, there isn’t an abundance of information online related to your personal well being and oral sex. The lack of information is surprising, especially since the American Sexual Health Association has reported that “over 80% of sexually active youth and adults ages 15-44 years reported having had oral sex at least once with a partner of the opposite sex. The same survey found that 45% or more of teenage girls and boys (ages 15-19 years) report having had oral sex with a partner of the opposite sex.” If half the teens who took this survey are having oral sex, shouldn’t it pop up in a classroom agenda once and awhile? (Note to our readers: if you had a good classroom experience talkin’ about oral sex, please let us know!)
Us THINXers agreed that oral sex simply felt *safer* than penetrative sex. However, medical professionals have been clear that we should not individually categorize oral sex as safe sex. If not using protection, you have a risk of receiving an STI in the mouth or throat, including chlamydia, gonorrhea, and syphilis, and they often have little to no symptoms. You also have a chance of receiving herpes, HIV (though the chance of getting HIV from saliva is low), and possibly HPV or throat cancer, though it is rare. Doctors recommend that if you do not know the sexual health and history of your partner, or if they have a STD, you use condoms or dental dams. If you’re having sex with someone with a sexual history you’re not familiar with, drop a sexy line like “Hey, have you been tested?” or the ever-so-saucy “I just love a man/woman who keeps up to date on their sexual health!” (These lines are ~not~ doctor approved but I can personally confirm the first one gives good results.) For HPV, it’s recommended that you get the HPV vaccine to reduce your chance of receiving it from a partner.
Of course, we couldn’t talk about oral sex without bringing periods into the mix, too. Almost everyone in our chat had received oral sex while on their period at some point, and several people had performed oral sex on a woman who was menstruating. The descriptions varied from “The smell made me nauseous” to “I didn’t even notice!”, but all of us agreed that again, there is barely any research or information online to inform us on the basics. Overall, this act is theoretically safe if you are both disease free, but just as you would normally, it’s best to confirm with your partner that they do not have any sexually transmitted diseases, and to use protection if you are unsure. Overall, if you’re safe, Team THINX is totally team Go For It. Bonus--orgasming can help soothe menstrual cramps, so why not kill two birds with one stone?
Ultimately, our conversation and internet deep-dive reminded us that oral sex is sex, and not just because you could be potentially exposed to the same diseases as penetrative sex. “To me, oral sex is sex, plain and simple,” said a THINXer. “I typically have sex with women, so for us, that’s the central activity. That’s how we both orgasm. When I think of having sex with someone, I think or oral sex.” We all agreed- oral sex is sex, and to categorize it as just a casual precursor to penetrative sex is minimizing the physical and emotional value. It is because it has been seen as a more casual act that we haven’t discussed it in sexual health education, inquire about sexual history from our partners, wear protection, or publish informative articles. We need to give oral sex the respect it deserves, and remember the risks along with the many rewards.