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I had unprotected oral sex, and I'm worried about HIV

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Anonymous asks:

About 4 months ago, I had unprotected oral sex with a guy that I know has been with at least a few other girls. The question of protection or other sexual partners never came up, although he knew that I was a virgin and that he was not. I was worried about my risk for HIV, again, I do not know his history. I have had no testing or symptoms as of yet.

Heather Corinna replies:

You could know way more about his history, but unless you happen to have very recent sexually transmitted infection (STI) test results for him and all his previous partners, knowing that history alone isn't going to offer you much. Even with all that information, without the other aspects of safer sex -- latex barrier use and a period of monogamy before going without -- at play, you're not really protected.

With any new partner, you have to always figure that you are at risk of catching anything and everything, and either do what you can to prevent transmission by using latex barriers, or opt out of sex. Using condoms does not remove all risks, but it drastically reduced the risks of most STIs, and for some STIs, makes it nearly impossible to catch or spread them.

So, since that's not what you did, the only sound thing to do now is just to get tested. Most STIs don't have obvious symptoms, and HIV is one where a person can go years without realizing they have it: it's usually estimated that at any given time in the United States, there are around 300,000 people living with HIV who don't know they have it. Until it really starts to eat away at your immune system, it tends to be a very silent disease.

When you're sexually active -- even when you DO use latex barriers for any oral, vaginal or anal sex -- you want to be getting tested for all STIs, at least once a year, and more often if you're switching partners or with partners for shorter periods of time than that. So, time to get started on that, okay? If you've only had oral sex, let your health care professional know that, and they'll only test you for the infections you could have gotten through that oral sex.

Next time, too? When your partner doesn't bring up safer sex, then you bring up safer sex. In fact, there's no reason to ever wait for them to do that: after all, someone has to step up to the plate, and it might as well be you. If you don't feel able to bring things like that up, that's usually a good indication that you're either trying to move too far, too fast, and just not ready for sex at that time, or that you're with someone who you just don't feel comfortable enough with for them to be a good and safe sex partner for you. When we can't talk about something, we usually can't really do that something either, you know? And if you're not at all okay asking a guy to use a condom for any given thing -- and making clear that no sex, including oral sex, is going to happen without it -- then it's always best to wait for any kind of sex until you do feel confident and capable with that. That's absolutely about your health and safety, but it's also about your enjoyment and positive sexual experiences: if you don't feel like you can openly initiate talk with a sexual partner about sex, step up to the plate and insist on safety, or depend on them for doing same, you probably are hardly going to have the best sex of your life with them, either. Sex of all kinds can be an awesome thing, but it also carries a lot of risks, so it doesn't make much sense to put yourself in a position to have any kind of sex where the risks outweigh the benefits AND the risks are not managed, by both people, so that it's unlikely either one of you will have to deal with big negative consequences from sex together. If the guy you're giving a blow job to doesn't seem to care at all about that, and isn't invested in that, you can safely assume the only thing he's invested in is himself and getting head from you. Bleck.

Go ahead and schedule that STI screening, including an HIV screening. And do be calm about it: freaking out is never productive. While yes, unprotected sex poses very real risks, and while yes, there are plenty of young people with HIV, overall, for most young people save selected groups (namely those engaging in IV drug use), your risks of other STIs (like Herpes or Gonorrhea) are higher than your risks of HIV, particularly with oral sex. And getting tested is also your way of taking charge to the degree you can: it's nothing to be scared of to take charge of your own health. You can get those screenings from your regular doctor, your gynecologist, or from a sexual health clinic. If money is an issue, most clinics offer sliding scale fees.

Here are some extra links for you for more information on HIV, other STIs, testing and readiness:

written 30 Dec 2007 . updated 19 Jan 2009

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