Ask the Expert: ‘Can you get HIV from giving a BJ?’

Q: I keep hearing, “You can’t get AIDS from a blow-job.”  What if the “blower” has minor open sores in his or her mouth?  Wouldn’t that be enough for transmission?

A: Can a person get HIV from oral sex? Yes. How likely is it? That depends on a few things.

First, a quick primer on HIV: there are four (and only four!) fluids that transmit HIV: blood, breast milk, vaginal fluids, and semen.

So: generally, getting head is a lot safer than giving head, because it means that you’re only coming into contact with your partner’s saliva (which doesn’t transmit HIV), whereas when you’re giving head, you’re coming into contact with his semen (which does transmit HIV).

But what about if you’re going down on a dude and you don’t know his HIV status, and you’ve got open sores in your mouth? Chances are slim that you’ll get HIV from a one-time oral sex encounter with a person, but you definitely increase your chances of getting an STI when you’ve got open sores.

Everyone’s got small cuts in their mouth pretty much all the time, because we eat, we brush our teeth, we floss (err, some of us do, anyway), and these are all activities that can cause small abrasions. But use your head (the one above your neck, thank you): if you’ve got a huge, gaping, bloody wound in your mouth, don’t go down on anyone. Your chances of getting HIV are higher then because there’s a big ol’ pathway into your bloodstream.

As for spitting vs. swallowing, it doesn’t really matter which you do–just get the spunk out of your mouth quickly, rather than, say, swishing it around for a while. The moral of the story is: if you’re determined to get some tonight and you’re worried about HIV, go for oral sex rather than anal sex, and try to get head rather than give it.

Anna is completing her Master’s of Public Health with a focus on sexuality and health at Columbia University; she is an expert at She has an extensive background in safer sex, HIV and STI prevention, and reproductive rights. She received her undergraduate degree from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where she created and implemented the now-annual Orgasm Awareness Day.