Oral sex - how risky is low-risk?
July 22, 2010 6:26 AM   Subscribe

Unprotected oral sex outside my relationship: is this risky enough to warrant a confession?

I'm a guy in my late 20s, and in a long-term relationship with another guy. We both got tested for STDs and stopped using condoms for anal sex when it was clear we were both STD-free.

This week I met up with a stranger twice and gave him oral sex, without a condom. He came in my mouth three times.

I know I have put my STD-free status at risk by doing this. Now I'm starting to wonder to what extent. I didn't have any particular lesions in my mouth at the time of giving the oral sex. The guy was a stranger, early 20s, Tunisian, and I have no idea about his STD status, so I can only speculate, but he seemed like the type that would normally have sex with women, and would not receive anal sex from men (and of course even if this is true, I know he can still have STDs). He did suggest that he could have anal sex with me (to which I said no) and I don't know if he had a condom with him, so there is a chance he has previously topped another guy bareback.

I will see my partner again in a couple of weeks. Should I confess to him, and suggest we go back onto condoms again until I get tested and have a clean bill of health? Or is the risk of infection so small that it is not worth the damage this could do to the relationship? I know he would be really hurt to think that I have been with someone else, even in a casual way like this.

In the meantime I will get an appointment with a sexual health clinic, but I may not be able to see them before I see my boyfriend. I'm worried about this and I'd really appreciate any advice. Many thanks.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (26 answers total)

"Or is the risk of infection so small that it is not worth the damage this could do to the relationship? I know he would be really hurt to think that I have been with someone else, even in a casual way like this."

So how would you feel if he had been with a stranger, in a "casual way like this", lied to you about it, continued to have sex with you, and gave you and STD?

You've already hurt him, he just doesn't know yet. Tell the truth and get it over with.
posted by Benjy at 6:31 AM on July 22, 2010 [12 favorites]

It's not your decision, or our decision, whether the risk of your partner getting an STD is so small that he doesn't need to worry about it.
posted by Jaltcoh at 6:34 AM on July 22, 2010 [12 favorites]

Honestly, I think the decision about risk is one that your partner needs to make for himself. That is, the added risk from your hookup is small, but more than zero -- it's not for you to make that choice for him.

Either way, do get tested. I don't know where you live, but in most places I've lived it is possible to get fast and anonymous HIV testing within a day or two; getting a full STD checkup can take longer unless you are lucky enough to have access to a really good clinic.
posted by Forktine at 6:35 AM on July 22, 2010

Or is the risk of infection so small that it is not worth the damage this could do to the relationship?

That's a pathetic way to look at things; if there's a non-zero chance of giving a long-term partner an STD from cheating on them (I'm assuming, based on the "hurt to think that I have been with someone else" part of your question that it's not in your relationship dynamic) and it's completely cowardly to risk another person's health, even at low levels, so that you can get away with betrayal. TELL HIM.
posted by Hiker at 6:36 AM on July 22, 2010 [3 favorites]

Your partner has a right to make informed choices about his sexual health. Even though the risks from unprotected oral sex are not as great as those from unprotected anal sex, they still exist. By hooking up with someone other than your partner, you have brought the possibility of STIs into the equation, and he should know.

In addition, you should schedule an appointment with a clinic now and go ahead and schedule follow-up appointments for three months and six months down the road. HIV, for example, may take several months to be diagnosed accurately.

In addition, I don't know the terms of your relationship, but it sounds like you are not in an open relationship. Your boyfriend should know that you stepped outside of the normal expectations you have for each other in your relationship. This may not be a deal breaker for him, but he needs to know.
posted by kevin-o at 6:36 AM on July 22, 2010

I think the risk of infection is not the number reason one confesses to infidelity...

And yes. You can get plenty of things via unprotected oral.
posted by gjc at 6:37 AM on July 22, 2010

Be a grownup. Disclose.
posted by EatTheWeek at 6:37 AM on July 22, 2010 [3 favorites]

He deserves to know first and foremost for his health, but he also deserves to know you cheated on him. He deserves to have all of the information - including that his partner cheats (or, to give you the benefit of the doubt - has cheated) without protection - so he can decide whether he wants to continue in this relationship at all.

Don't cheat. If you want to have sex with more than one person, be honest about it and don't have sex with multiple partners without protection.
posted by SugarAndSass at 6:39 AM on July 22, 2010 [1 favorite]

I used to work at an STD clinic. Gay men, in particular, frequently contracted syphilis from unprotected oral sex.
posted by OmieWise at 6:41 AM on July 22, 2010 [4 favorites]

HIV transmission risk is relatively low, although not non-existent.
posted by OmieWise at 6:43 AM on July 22, 2010

You should not have sex with your partner before you get tested. It doesn't matter what you think your this stranger might have done in the past, or what he told you. Oral sex is considerably safer than anal sex, but it is not risk-free for transmission of HIV, or various other less serious curable and incurable STDs.

I don't have any great advice for how you should explain to your partner why you can't have sex yet, but you'll have to think of something. Either tell him the truth, or make up something to explain it. Either way, don't put him at risk. Good luck.
posted by Salvor Hardin at 6:46 AM on July 22, 2010 [1 favorite]

In case you haven't hit up google on this yet, there are a lot of sexual health guides that address the specific question of how risky is unprotected oral sex. (UK example, US example, another). So beyond the advice you are getting here, there are tons of resources online that can address your exact concerns. It's also a question that any decent HIV outreach organization addresses numerous times a day, so don't feel shy to phone one up and ask them directly.
posted by Forktine at 6:46 AM on July 22, 2010 [1 favorite]

There is no worthwhile relationship if you don't tell your partner.

Think about all the lies and cover-ups and hoops you will have to jump through in order to keep this to yourself; you will have to pretend that the event didn't happen. You will have to pray to god that you never run into Mr. Unexpected Sex ever again or that you don't have mutual friends. This and the guilt and the anxiety about a possible STD are going to put a strain on your feelings. Can you lose your partner after telling the truth? Maybe. If you don't tell him the truth it will cheapen the relationship you have now for sure AND put your partner in danger.
posted by Secret Life of Gravy at 6:46 AM on July 22, 2010

The cheating isn't the question here, everyone. He made a choice, it's his own, let him deal with that in the way he sees fit. In my opinion it's not a right/wrong issue, it's an adult making a decision. If he's ok doing it, why should we care?

Now, in terms of informing your boyfriend of this, I would say that you need to get tested asap. If you get the results before you see him again that will help inform your decision. If you're negative for everything you can then weigh the pros and cons of the impact this will have on your relationship. But if you're positive, I'm afraid that you have no choice but to tell him.
posted by fso at 7:02 AM on July 22, 2010 [4 favorites]

Mod note: comment removed - folks, OP did not ask "is this cheating"
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 7:09 AM on July 22, 2010 [1 favorite]

Your partner deserves to know that sex with you has gone from "no risk" to "some risk." When you have gone through the trouble of testing, waiting, and retesting before stopping condom use, you have made an implicit agreement to inform your partner of any new risks.
posted by hworth at 7:46 AM on July 22, 2010 [8 favorites]

The chances that you were infected with anything are minimal, but they do exist. Single people roll the dice like that all the time, but as other people have said here, when you're in a relationship you're gambling with other people's health too.

I'd like to say I've been a perfect saint about disclosure and safety, but I know far too well that we're all human and it can be incredibly difficult to admit to ourselves when we've taken a serious risk, and comparatively far easier to rationalize our fears away. The better you get at this now, the better you'll be able to cope with situations like this in the future. Don't look at this as a trip to the woodshed, and don't wallow in guilt -- this is the sort of terrain that any two adults in a LTR must explore together, and you have a lot of control over the tone that is set in your discussions.
posted by hermitosis at 7:54 AM on July 22, 2010 [3 favorites]

I think the chances are pretty tiny that you got any kind of STD. Possible, yes, but very small. The fact that you show enough concern to post the questions means, I think, that you should disclose. Let him make the decision about whether he should be worried.
posted by molecicco at 7:58 AM on July 22, 2010

Get tested, but don't freak out. You'll probably be fine. But you'll never know for sure if you aren't tested.

Tell him. He deserves it and you deserve to be in a relationship where you can be honest. If this means the end of your relationship, at least you know you made the right choice at one point along the way, if not the whole time. Not telling him is compounding the wrong. Cheating is/should be a minor infraction compared to putting someone's health at risk.

Good luck.
posted by MCMikeNamara at 8:10 AM on July 22, 2010

This is a bullshit way to think about things, if there's a modicum of respect between you and your partner, you have to come clean ASAP.

If there has been sort of exclusivity agreement in the past with your partner, implied or explicit, then you effed-up big time. Tell him before giving him an STD and making a bad situation an unforgivable one.
posted by wmeredith at 8:11 AM on July 22, 2010 [1 favorite]

Ohmygod tell him.
posted by Houyhnhnm at 8:25 AM on July 22, 2010 [1 favorite]

The important thing is that you don't have sex with your partner before you get your test results. I would qualify everyone's advice to tell your partner about the affair by saying this: if you want the relationship to continue and want it to stay exclusive, and will ensure that there are no more indiscretions on your part, then you don't need to tell him (as long as you don't expose him to a STD risk- see first sentence!). If he's not at risk and this was a one-time mistake, then telling him will only hurt him.

But if your test results are positive, or if you no longer want an exclusive relationship/don't believe you can stay faithful from now on, then yes, you should tell him asap.
posted by Hdog at 9:08 AM on July 22, 2010

The guy was a stranger... so I can only speculate... but he seemed like the type...

You know perfectly well that you are just rationalizing with this stuff. You don't know a thing about what this person does or doesn't do beyond knowing that he is up for unprotected oral sex with a stranger which is not encouraging. You cannot gauge the risk of these encounters so you have to treat it as significant.
posted by nanojath at 1:00 PM on July 22, 2010

Tell him. Say the guy gave you HIV. It may take six months to show up in your system. As such, I heartily disagree with those who say to just avoid sex until you get the results. The results you get in three days may not give you the whole picture. So tell him. If you don't care enough about him to tell him, you shouldn't be with him anyway.
posted by freshwater at 3:00 PM on July 22, 2010 [3 favorites]

Still a risk big enough to tell your partner.

Things that can be spread via oral sex alone:
HPV (can cause mouth/head cancers)

Please don't put your partner through not knowing their own sexual health risks. Tell him.
posted by batmonkey at 3:32 PM on July 22, 2010

Tell him, tell him, tell him. It is horribly irresponsible and terrible not to. You owe him this. Even the dude wore a condom, you need to tell him, because having sexual encounters behind an SO's back is not cool.
posted by elpea at 5:15 PM on July 22, 2010

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