Barebacking for Blow Jobs: Is it safe?

As a sex educator, I work with a young couple in their early 20s who are newly sexually active. The boyfriend asked me last week about oral sex without a condom. “Is it safe?” he wanted to know. They, unlike most couples, always use condoms for fellatio.

This issue was addressed by a recently released CDC report on oral sex in young adults. The study was based on 6,346 computerized interview questionnaires that were given to men and women ages 15 to 24 from July 2007 to June 2010.

The report states “research suggests that adolescents perceive fewer health-related risks for oral sex compared with vaginal intercourse.” Well, adolescents happen to be right about that—it is less risky than penile vaginal intercourse or penile anal intercourse for that matter. But it is not without risk.

We know there is a risk of STI transmission, even of HIV transmission, although the risk is considered very low. But for herpes, the risk is higher, although as Amanda Marcotte from Slate.com points out you can also get herpes simplex 1 from “kissing and sharing forks, which means that even the most sex-phobic hysteric should probably let that one go.” Yet, oral sex also poses a risk for HPV, chlamydia, gonorrhea and syphilis, although the risk is still less than with penile vaginal or penile anal sex.

So here I was faced with the question from these two very careful young adults. I let them know that continuing to use a condom is the safest option, but if they were going to consider going bareback, there are some things to keep in mind. I went into some harm reduction techniques for safer oral sex—not flossing or brushing teeth before oral sex, bathing and washing genitals before and after, avoiding oral sex if any cuts, sores or lesions are present, etc.

According to the CDC report “Some adolescents who have oral sex prior to first vaginal intercourse delay intercourse to maintain their virginity, and to avoid the risk of pregnancy and STIs.” They are basically using oral sex as a form of harm reduction. It is a way to begin to experiment sexually without risking unwanted pregnancy and at least lowering the risk of STI transmission, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

Case in point—my first blow job. At the age of 16, still a virgin, I found myself moving rapidly through the bases with a boy I was quite attracted to, but didn’t feel ready to slide into home with just yet, at least not without a condom. He started trying to penetrate my vagina with his penis, and I stopped him, saying that although I thought he was very cute, I wasn’t ready to have his baby yet. Thinking myself so witty and clever, I figured this would end that, and we could go back to the kissing and groping I was so enjoying. No dice. “Do you give head?” he wanted to know. He asked in such a matter of fact way, as if he were asking if I roller skated or painted pictures. I didn’t know. Did I? I never had. But suddenly I didn’t want him to know that. I wanted to be cool. At 16, my inner sex goddess, wanted to be recognized, although she had no experience. I honestly can’t remember if I said yes. But I didn’t say no and that was enough for him. I remember him pushing my head down onto him. I gave it my best attempt, but he wasn’t counting on the inner brackets of my braces. After a short time, I think any pleasure he might have been getting was overshadowed by pain and just as he had placed me on him, he removed my head and relieved me of my duty.

That was the end of our “relationship” and although in hindsight it wasn’t at all what I would call a healthy sex experience, in my 16 year old mind, before I had ever heard the phrase “harm reduction,” I was making a healthier choice and preventing unwanted pregnancy.

Later in the counseling session with the young couple I had the opportunity to speak to the girlfriend alone and asked her what she thought about giving her boyfriend a blow job without a condom. She shook her head. “No way,” she said. When her boyfriend came back in the room, we let him know what the deal was. “Okay by me,” he said.

Ideally young adults who are sexually active are having consensual sex positive experiences that pose the least risk for unwanted pregnancy and infection transmission. As parents, caregivers and educators we can offer them the facts about risk, but also try to remember what it feels like to be a teenager, dealing with peer pressure and hormones, and that sometimes choosing safer over safe feels like the best option.

Remi Newman

Remi Newman, MA, earned her master’s degree in sexuality education from NYU and has over ten years of experience creating and facilitating sexuality education workshops in both English and Spanish. As a new mom, she created “Having the talk before they can talk” a workshop for new and expectant parents to help them feel confident as the primary sexuality educators for their kids. Originally from the streets of Philadelphia, she now lives in Northern California with her husband, son, sister and one of her best friends. Find her online at Healthy Sex For Life.

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1 Response

  1. Julia says:

    I really like this article and the openness about oral sex. But I think some issues were ignored.
    We had an event yesterday where we have away dental dams ad initially people are like “no way!” But I took one out and had people feel how silky it is and it was vanilla scented. Then I told people that you can get oral HPV and as you know some HPV can cause cancer and you can get cancer of the throat.
    After that the ladies and the guys were taking them promising to at least try them out.
    I love what I do. I bring awareness and take away some of that taboo about sexuality and STI’s, and safe sex, etc.