I’ve been exploring a bit and I’ve realized I’m realllly into oral sex with partners of whatever gender. This is exciting but I’m kind of afraid to do it as I’m new to this. I’m not sure if it’s safe without protection and I don’t know the right way to ask about a partner’s sexual history, especially if we’ve only recently met. This sort of makes me afraid to use things like Grindr though I’d like to. Your insight would be appreciated. P.S. I think your work on consent is rad!
It’s great to hear that you’re into my consent work, because my answer is intimately tied to practicing consent with your sexual partners — from your LTRs to your one-night Grindr dates — and for all sexual activities from making out to oral sex to hot-n-sweaty bangin’.
Whether you’re eating tacos or hot dogs, being aware of your pornolicious picnic partner’s condiment preferences and current health status is important. Talking about your current STI/STD status is crucial but can also be part of a larger discussion about sexual preferences, triggers, and enthusiastic “Yes”s — all components of practicing consent!
Mass media creates an image of sex as devoid of clear communication, showing us seamless sex scenes of take-me-now, instantly-orgasmic encounters occurring in some parallel universe where people can psychically perfect their partner’s pleasures, wordlessly get consent, and where everyone is magically immune to STIs/STDs.
Here in the off-screen real world, we know better. Or, at least we should, except we live in a society that would rather we get our sex education through these confusing mass media messages than from trained sex educators (but that’s another column). The first thing we need to do is let go of The Movie Sex Scene as the ideal because it’s neither attainable nor ideal.
Dating sites like Grindr set you up nicely to talk about going down before you get down. Here you can ask “What’s your STI status?” or state desires like “I’m realllllly into oral sex” while blushing hot red from the safety of your keyboard. This digital divide is great for breaking the ice but shouldn’t be used as a substitute for real life conversations.
Make the STD talk a two-way conversation leading with your own disclosures first. For example, “I tested positive for chlamydia after my last partner but I treated it and now carry no risk. How about you?” or “I haven’t been tested yet so I’d like to do that before we see each other. You?” This makes the talk a two-way conversation rather than an inquisition and acknowledges that we’re all susceptible to STIs/STDs no matter our gender, sexuality, or body parts. Remember that this isn’t a contest, that nobody is perfect in managing their sexual health, and that most STIs/STDs are as curable as the common cold (while being mindful of those that are not, such as herpes and HIV).
Sex is never 100% safe, with or without barriers/protection. However, having these conversations and deciding how you and your partner would like to use barriers like condoms (on penises) and dental dams (on vaginas) for oral sex lessens your risk considerably.
Speaking generally, oral sex on a penis without a condom involves a high risk of transmission of herpes and HPV, a medium-high risk of gonorrhea, syphilis, and chlamydia, and a small-but-present risk of HIV transmission (however, due to its fatal nature, HIV’s important to account for). Using condoms reduces these risks, though HPV and herpes can exist outside of the condom’s protected range. Oral sex on a vagina is a relatively low-risk activity with risk of herpes and genital warts present (reduced by using a dental dam). HRC.org’s Safer Sex Manual offers inclusive, sex-act-specific risk-management statistics and tools.
Finally, this isn’t the time for just-met-you, pass-the-salt politeness, NLGD — you want to suck on this person’s genitals after all. This conversation requires bravery as we work against much ingrained social stigma. But the more you can normalize by example, the easier it will get for you and the more beneficial the ripple effect will be for your partners and their future partners.•
Yana Tallon-Hicks is a pleasure-positive sex educator and writer living in the Pioneer Valley. She has a website bursting with sex advice, resources, and workshops at yanatallonhicks.com.