Fecal-Oral Route for Transmission of Infection and Sex

Fecal-oral transmission occurs when infectious particles (pathogens) from feces are ingested through the mouth. These pathogens can be bacteria, viruses, or parasites.

Man washing hands close up
Ruth Jenkinson / Getty Images

What the Fecal Oral Route Has to Do With Sex

The fecal-oral route has been linked to the passing of certain sexually transmitted infections (STIs, formerly referred to as sexually transmitted diseases, or STDs). This risk is mostly through rimming and oral sex. Rimming is also known as analingus or anilingus.

Rimming is the practice of oral stimulation of the anus. It is considered to be a sexual behavior that can pose some risks to health. This is, in part, because rimming may expose people to the transmission of infections that move via the fecal-oral route.

The risk of disease transmission by the fecal-oral route is one reason why it's important to use barriers for oral-anal contact. 

Some infections that can be transmitted by the fecal-oral route include:

  • Hepatitis A and heapatitis E
  • Herpes
  • Gonorrhea
  • HPV (human papillomavirus)
  • Many other parasitic and bacterial diseases

Fecal-oral route disease transmission is classically associated with contamination of water by human or animal waste. Food poisoning due to food contamination or the use of contaminated water (for drinking, cooking, or cleaning) is a common reason that the fecal-oral route is an infectious disease risk.

Fecal-oral infection transmission can also occur when people involved in food preparation do not thoroughly wash their hands after going to the bathroom. Another cause is when people do not wash their hands before eating.

However, sexual exposure can also expose individuals to these same diseases that cause food poisoning.

These risks can be reduced by using dental dams or other barriers.

The Importance of Safe Oral-Anal Contact

STIs aren't the only infections for which rimming puts partners at risk. There is also a real, serious risk of passing on gastrointestinal infections (GI). This risk may also be present during other kinds of oral sex.

The oral sex risk associated with GI disease transmission depends on a number of factors. Among other things, it's related to personal hygiene practices. And oral contact with unclean hands could also potentially cause problems.

A Word From Verywell

All types of sexual contact have risks. Oral-anal contact is no different. However, that doesn't mean you have to stop doing the things you enjoy. Instead, also consider what you can do to protect your health. Remember that there are ways to make just about any sexual contact safer.

That's as true for rimming as it is for other behaviors. In particular, good personal hygiene makes a big difference in safety. So does consistent use of barriers, such as condoms and dental dams.

It's also important to remember that hygiene isn't important only before and after sex. It's also a really good idea to pay attention to proper handwashing at all times since GI infections can be passed this
way as well as through sexual contact.

3 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Go Ask Alice. Does a good washing before anilingus remove bacteria?. Columbia University.

  2. De graaf M, Beck R, Caccio SM, et al. Sustained fecal-oral human-to-human transmission following a zoonotic event. Curr Opin Virol. 2017;22:1-6. doi:10.1016/j.coviro.2016.11.001

  3. Bavoil PM, Marques PX, Brotman R, Ravel J. Does active oral sex contribute to female infertility?. J Infect Dis. 2017;216(8):932-935. doi:10.1093/infdis/jix419

Additional Reading

By Elizabeth Boskey, PhD
Elizabeth Boskey, PhD, MPH, CHES, is a social worker, adjunct lecturer, and expert writer in the field of sexually transmitted diseases.