Even given how terrible sex education generally can be in U.S. schools, most people probably know that condoms are an important part of safe sex, to prevent both unwanted pregnancies and sexually transmitted infections. But many may not know that condoms still protect against sexually transmitted infections even if there's no penetration involved.
Debby Herbenick, PhD, director at the Center for Sexual Health Promotion, told SELF that many people may not be using condoms or other forms of protection during oral sex because they believe that there's little risk for contracting STIs through oral sex. While it's true that oral sex poses a smaller risk than penetrative sex, it's still possible to transmit STIs like chlamydia and gonorrhea.
"Therefore, people who wish to avoid STIs should consider using condoms or dental dams during oral sex, particularly with new partners or partners whose STI status they are unsure of," Herbenick told SELF.
For cisgender women having sex with other cisgender women, having safe oral sex means using a dental dam (or a condom cut into a dental dam). For someone performing oral on a person with a penis, it means using a condom.
While the study isn't clear about the sexualities and gender identities represented in the data, the same advice applies to someone of any sexual orientation or gender: As long as they're having oral sex with a partner who hasn't been tested, with multiple partners, or with someone who may also be having sex with other people, protection is important.
Read these stories next: