AA: This is a great question—we’re so glad you asked! The short answer is yes, although we recognize that this is a very multilayered topic. We know from the 2018 HUHS health assessment that only about 2.7% of sexually active Harvard undergraduates self-report “mostly” or “always” using a barrier method (e.g. condom or oral dam) during oral sex (including oral sex on a penis, vagina, or anus).
SM: Despite low rates of using a barrier method during oral sex, we also know from the HUHS health assessment that over half of Harvard undergraduates believe that their peers are using a barrier method during oral sex. This is largely in conflict with broader societal norms, and can make negotiating barrier method use during oral sex difficult.
AA: Since it can be hard to have these types of conversations, here are some strategies that we’ve heard can be successful for some folks:
Having the conversation about protection before the sexual act—in the heat of the moment, it may be more difficult to initiate the conversation.
It’s always ok to ask your partner(s) why they’re not willing to use a barrier method, or what specific concerns they may have.
Making sure to have the supplies on hand, so that you don’t agree to use a condom and then suddenly find yourself without one.
Exploring different ways to use the supplies to maximize pleasure for all parties—making it a fun and pleasurable exploration.
SM: We hope that these strategies can be useful tools, but also know that context and interpersonal dynamics might make any of these strategies hard or unavailable. If you’re concerned about having these types of conversations with your partner, you can always reach out to OSAPR.
AA: Using a barrier method is always a personal choice. That being said, we do want to make sure that people have the information to make informed choices for themselves. It’s possible to transmit STIs (sexually transmitted infections) through all types of oral sex (blowjobs, and oral sex on a vagina or anus). Here is a handy table summarizing the STIs that can be transmitted through oral sex acts.
(Table from British Columbia Centre for Disease Control: https://smartsexresource.com/about-stis/know-your-chances-0)
SM: As you can see, using a barrier method greatly reduces your chances of transmitting an STI. However, we recognize that the context of each relationship will impact how often and in which situations a barrier method is used. Also, be sure to check out our recent roundup of free places to get barrier methods on campus. Thanks again for your question!