Fecal-Oral Route for Transmission of Infection and Sex

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

What the Fecal Oral Route Has to Do With Sex

Fecal-oral route disease transmission is classically associated with contamination of water by human or animal waste. However, there are some sexual and behavioral practices that can also expose individuals to these diseases. The fecal-oral route has also been linked to the passing of certain STDs. This risk is mostly through rimming and oral sex. However, oral contact with unclean hands could also potentially cause problems.

Rimming is the practice of oral stimulation of the anus. It is considered to be a relatively risky sexual behavior. This is, in part, because rimming may expose people to the transmission of infections that move via the fecal-oral route. These risks can be reduced by using dental dams or other barriers. Rimming is also known as analingus or anilingus.

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

  • Hepatitis A and E
  • Herpes
  • Gonorrhea
  • HPV
  • Many other parasitic and bacterial diseases

Sex and contaminated water aren't the only ways that fecal-oral transmission occurs. This type of infection can also occur in other ways. One common way is when people involved in food preparation fail to thoroughly wash their hands after going to the bathroom. Another is when people do not wash their hands before eating. In fact, food contamination due to improper hand washing or use of contaminated water is the way that most people think about the fecal-oral route as a disease risk.

The Importance of Safe Oral-Anal Contact

The risk of disease transmission by the fecal-oral route is one reason why it's important to use barriers for any oral-anal contact. STDs aren't the only infections for which rimming puts partners at risk. There is also a real, serious risk of passing on quite unpleasant 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 very related to personal hygiene practices.

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 love. Instead, you just want to think about what you can and want to 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.

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 in your daily life. Ultimately, food poisoning and stomach upsets are a lot less fun than most STDs.

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Article Sources
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  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

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