Can You Get Chlamydia From Oral Sex? An Infectious Disease Epidemiologist Explains
Can oral sex cause you or a partner to pass along chlamydia? It's possible, say doctors. Here's how it happens.
Sexually transmitted disease diagnoses have been on the rise in recent years. In 2019, the National Chlamydia Coalition stated that cases of chlamydia had increased 19% over the previous five years. And despite imposed social isolation measures, the COVID-19 pandemic didn’t seem to slow the trend down much: Between 2020 and 2021, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported that chlamydia, gonorrhea and syphilis had increased by 4%, 4%, and 32% respectively. The CDC added that it’s possible these estimates were low due to the fact that individuals probably weren’t being screened for these infections at the same levels they would have if the pandemic hadn’t deterred consumers from seeking healthcare.
Even though you probably know that it can pass through sexual intercourse, you don’t have to go “all the way” to contract chlamydia. A doctor who studies viruses shared the answer on whether you can get chlamydia from oral sex—keep reading.
What is chlamydia?
Chlamydia is a bacterium that’s often called a silent infection because you may not experience symptoms—or a partner may not pick up on their own chlamydia symptoms.
“One of the problems with chlamydia is that the majority of people do not have any symptoms at all, yet the infection can cause infertility, pelvic inflammatory disease, and swollen testicles in men,” explains Patricia Kissinger, PhD, an infectious disease epidemiologist at Tulane University in New Orleans, LA.
That’s why understanding how oral sex can give you chlamydia is important. When you know how to prevent it, you can take steps to do so.
Yes, you can chlamydia from oral sex, says an infectious disease doctor
The answer: You can get chlamydia from oral sex, even if it’s just one time.
“Chlamydia can be transmitted genitally, anally, and orally,” Dr. Kissinger tells The Healthy @Reader’s Digest. Semen doesn’t even have to be part of the equation to pass it on.
Who can get chlamydia?
Anyone who has sex with another person is at risk for chlamydia. Chlamydia tends to be more common among a younger demographic, the CDC reports, but sexually transmitted infections have also been on the rise among older Americans.
“Rates will be higher in groups that have higher genital infections (such as gay and bisexual men), but one could have an oral infection without having a genital infection,” Dr. Kissinger notes.
Can you pass chlamydia through saliva?
No, chlamydia is not passed via saliva. The infection is in semen, pre-cum, and vaginal fluids. You cannot contract chlamydia by kissing or sharing a drink with someone who’s infected.
How is chlamydia spread through mouth?
Bacteria can infect the penis, vagina, urethra, cervix, anus, eyes, and throat. If you perform oral sex on any of those areas on another person and they have chlamydia, you can become infected.
Likewise, if you have chlamydia and another person performs oral sex on any of those parts of your body, they can catch it. If you go back and forth, you can give it to each other.
The Mayo Clinic suggests using condoms or dental dams can help prevent it, as can getting screened regularly if you have multiple partners. Open communication in a healthy, trusting relationship can also be key.
Do you have chlamydia? How to tell
If you’re worried you might be infected, a few symptoms of chlamydia to watch out for can include discharge, painful urination, or sore throat (if you have an oral infection). Dr. Kissinger says some people have reported anxious mood and fatigue.
The best way to know whether you have chlamydia is to get tested at your doctor’s office. At-home urine tests exist, too. “It is fine to test at home for convenience, but if any of the tests are positive, one should follow-up with a provider,” Dr. Kissinger adds.