Ask Kayy

Dear Kayy,

I’m a virgin and have had very little hooking-up experience. I am curious about oral sex but my parents told me that “oral sex is sex” and that it’s just as bad as having regular sex with a guy. How is that possible? I’m kind of bored with just making out and I want more.

Orally Challenged

Dear Orally Challenged,

“I did not have sexual relations with that woman” – the words that will go down in history as perhaps Bill Clinton’s most famous ones. His little fling with Monica Lewinsky sparked a debate and created water cooler conversations across America: Is oral sex, or fellatio, considered sex?

Well, Bill didn’t think so. And many people don’t, actually. Well, let’s think about it. Intercourse is traditionally considered to be penetration of a vagina by a penis. Losing one’s virginity is generally seen as the moment when the hymen is broken. But when you look critically at this definition, a few questions come to mind. What if the girl was in an accident where her hymen was broken? Or what about people who aren’t straight and never experience vaginal/penile penetration. Do they remain lifelong virgins even though they have been sexually active for decades?

When questioning the “heteronormative” definition of intercourse, it forces us to rethink all sexual acts and where they fit in. Oral sex might not technically be termed “intercourse,” but it certainly has a lot of things in common with it. For example, it is very unfortunate that men and women don’t consider oral sex to be sex because they don’t take proper precautions in protecting themselves. Because it’s not “intercourse” they don’t think they can contract diseases or infections, when that’s the farthest thing from the truth.

Just because you can’t get pregnant from oral sex, that doesn’t mean taking part in the act is any less heavy than having intercourse. In fact, pretty much everything you can “catch” during sex, you can also get from going downtown – hence, the importance of health campaigns drawing attention to the realities of oral sex and the great plethora of flavored condoms (I suggest Trojan Mint tingle).

This doesn’t only apply to fellatio, but cunnilingus and analingus as well. Dental dams are used to protect from secretions during anal- or vaginal-oral sex that may contain infectious viruses or bacteria. Although you might think using a condom or a dental dam might be “uncomfortable” or “unsexy,” think of it this way: I don’t think there’s anything more uncomfortable or unsexy than a good case of chlamydia.

So what can you catch? Like I said, you can pretty much catch anything from oral sex as with intercourse, including gonorrhea, which, when contracted orally, causes an infection in the pharynx. The bacteria that causes gonorrhea does not only grow in different areas of both men and women’s reproductive systems, but it is receptive to other warm places like the anus, throat and mouth. Gonorrhea can be cured with an antibiotic, but can often go without symptoms, hence the importance of periodic screening for gonorrhea, as well as other sexually transmitted infections (especially chlamydia – the two often go hand-in-hand).

It is also possible to pass herpes along through oral contact. There are two types of herpes: one that infects the mouth and throat and one that infects the genitals. If you have a tiny cold sore (oral herpes), you can pass it onto your partner during oral sex (genital herpes). Also, studies have shown that herpes can be passed even when there is no outbreak at the time – which means if you’ve ever had a cold sore, there is a possibility that you can give your partner genital herpes. Not only is herpes uncomfortable, it is not curable.

Although the risk of contracting HIV is much lower with oral sex than with anal or vaginal sex, there is still a “theoretical risk,” meaning there are no definite percentages or numbers. Although HIV isn’t the first thing on your mind when you’re about to participate in oral sex, it is something to keep in mind and just one more reason to use protection, since HIV can be transmitted through body fluids such as blood. There have also been documented cases of syphilis, genital warts, intestinal parasites (amebiasis) and hepatitis A being passed along through oral sex.

Health risks are not the only type of risks involved with oral sex. I’ll never forget one of my friendly male friends saying to me, “It’s okay for friends to give friends blowjobs, but once they have sex it gets complicated.” Complicated for whom, I wanted to ask, but I didn’t.

What he said made me think. Diseases aside, oral sex is generally considered as hooking-up or fair game among non-committed persons. Which is totally cool as long as you’re safe and get tested regularly, and as long as you keep your emotions in check. Just because you’re not having “real” sex doesn’t mean that you won’t deal with the same problems afterward. Unlike my friend so casually put it, it is most definitely possible to deal with attachment, regret or disappointment afterward – a.k.a. mucho complications.

As long as you are in check with your emotions, are up-to-date with your health check-ups and use protection, oral sex is awesome. It’s important to keep these things in mind before going down under.