Local sexperts answer your oral sex questions
Results from this year’s Student Life sex survey show that out of the 1,427 Washington University undergraduates who responded, around 72 percent engage or have engaged in some form of oral sex—but of that group, fewer than 2 percent use protection against sexually transmitted diseases when giving or receiving oral sex.
Student Life met individually with Lawrence Lewis, youth services coordinator for The Spot, a Washington University-affiliated sexual health center for teens and young adults, and junior Fabian Barch, a peer health educator on campus, to discuss common misconceptions regarding oral sex and offer advice to those wishing to engage in safe and fulfilling practices.
Student Life: What are some common misconceptions that college students have about oral sex?
Lawrence Lewis: People have misconceptions that it isn’t really sex. If we look at sexual contact as anything involving genitals, then oral sex meets that definition.
Fabian Barch: That it is necessarily less intimate than anal or vaginal intercourse. I think a lot of people think of oral sex as a “lower commitment” version of sex, which is an idea that is completely culturally constructed. Many people don’t judge the effort of getting another condom, paying for it and all that, for something that is already very low-risk.
SL: About 72 percent of Wash. U. students surveyed reported that they engage (or have engaged) in oral sex, but only about 2 percent of students said they use protection during oral sex. Can you explain the disconnect?
LL: It is often discussed as foreplay and not as a complete act or an end in itself. If it’s just foreplay, then an individual is not as concerned as using a barrier method [such as a condom or a dental dam] because they’re just gearing up for penetrative sex.
FB: A lot of people don’t want to ruin the moment. And there’s this idea that taking a break from sexual things to say, “Hey, should we put a condom on now?” seems really intimidating, especially in the heat of everything.
SL: What sort of STDs can be transmitted through oral sex alone?
LL: Herpes, syphilis, gonorrhea, chlamydia and HPV, with lower risks of transmission and acquisition for HIV and hepatitis.
FB: Unless people are planning on having ejaculate in their mouth, there is a very low percentage rate of transmission for most sexual transmitted infections while performing oral sex.
SL: What do you think is the biggest obstacle to getting students to practice safer oral sex?
LL: Knowledge. There are a lot of people who have never heard of dental dams or flavored condoms. So they don’t know that there are tools available for reducing risk. How people eroticize (or de-eroticize) the use of a barrier method is a key part of getting people to use it. When people become uncomfortable with a particular method, it is hard to get [them] on board. They don’t know how to have fun with it.
SL: Any advice for students who are interested in practicing safer (and more fulfilling) oral sex?
LL: First, if you’re not comfortable having a conversation with your sex partner, you might want to reconsider if that’s the sex partner you want to have. Second, get in touch with your own sensual, erotic side so that you know that there are many ways to stimulate your body and your partner’s body without having sex with them. We should start looking at full-body intimacy, full-body arousal with a romantic—or even just sexual—partner. There are many ways to express desire to another person.
FB: There are very natural and sexy ways to ask to use protection, just like there are natural and sexy ways to check for consent with your partner. And I think practicing those and incorporating them into your sexual routine is important because you should always be checking for consent and you should always be practicing safe sex.