Wil Dubois

Hey, All -- if you've got questions about life with diabetes, then you've come to the right place! That would be our weekly diabetes advice column, Ask D'Mine, hosted by veteran type 1 and diabetes author Wil Dubois.

Today, Wil is digging into a somewhat awkward question that people without diabetes sometimes ask about intimacy. The answer is pretty clear any way you look at it, but here's how Wil would respond in a style all his own...

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Ray, type 3 from Louisiana, asks: If you have oral sex with someone who has diabetes, can you get it also?

Ask D'Mine button[email protected] D’Mine answers: Boy, am I ever glad you asked me instead of your potential partner in this sexcapade. Because had you asked her or him, I suspect that you’d be having sex by yourself tonight.

So here’s the deal: You cannot get diabetes from someone else. Period. Despite what you might have read about the “diabetes epidemic,” diabetes is not a contagious disease. You simply can’t catch diabetes. At all. It’s not possible. It doesn’t work that way. Diabetes is genetic. If you do get it, you were born with it. To be super clear about this:

  • You can’t get diabetes by breathing the same air we do.
  • You can’t get diabetes by shaking the hand of a person with diabetes.
  • You can’t get diabetes by sharing a fork with someone who has diabetes.
  • You can’t get diabetes by sitting on a toilet seat that someone with diabetes used.
  • You can’t get diabetes if one of us sneezes on you, although that would be rude.
  • You can’t get diabetes from a blood transfusion that uses our blood.
  • You can’t get diabetes by kissing someone who has diabetes. Even a loooooong French kiss.

And you can’t get diabetes by having sex of any kind with someone who has diabetes. Not through oral sex, not through intercourse, not through anal sex. You know, I’m often asked by PWDs if there are any upsides to having diabetes, and I usually draw a blank at this question. But, now, here it is: We have a chronic illness we can’t pass on to our sex partners! Yay! Party naked with the PWDs!

OK, so how do people get diabetes, and why are our numbers increasing? How can there be an epidemic of a disease that can’t be spread from person to person? Those questions aren’t as simple as they sound, but here goes. The most common kind of diabetes is called type 2, and it’s a disease of insulin resistance. You are either born with the genes for it or you aren’t, and the disease is “activated” by a combination of factors, with age and weight being two of the most notable. A lot more people carry the type 2 genes than previously realized, because our global diabetes numbers have spiked hand-in-hand with a global obesity crisis, that itself was triggered by widespread shifts in eating patterns.

Additionally, in the Developing World, diabetes numbers have increased as we’ve made progress in beating back deaths from communicable diseases like malaria and tuberculosis. Simply put, people in many countries are now living long enough to develop diabetes, which they hadn’t been before. Meanwhile, the more rare type 1 diabetes, an autoimmune disease in which the body attacks the insulin-producing cells in the pancreas, is on the rise as well, and the reasons for that are unclear, partly because the root cause of the disease itself is still not well understood. Personally, I think there are more type 1s because we are now living long enough to pass our genes on. Before the advent of insulin, all type 1s died, most as children.

So there you are. The numbers are growing due to complex far-reaching changes in global society, but diabetes still comes from within. It’s not spread person-to-person like the flu or pneumonic plague. So I hope that clears that up.

But back to oral sex again before we go: I’d be remiss in my duty as a retired public health worker if I didn’t point out that while you can’t get diabetes from oral sex, there are plenty of other things you can “catch” from it. While oral sex is by far the safest type of sex, at least when it comes to having unprotected sex with strangers, it’s still possible to get a variety of sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) from oral sex.

According to the Centers for Disease Control the following STDs can be passed on from oral sex: chlamydia, Gonorrhea, Herpes, HIV, HPV, Syphilis, and Trichomoniasis. The Feds have a nice little foreplay-inducing chart on that page that lists every kind of oral sex imaginable (and then some) and lists the associated risks of each kind of oral sex for each type of STD. I noticed that the chart also indicates which combinations of oral sex and disease transmission have been well-studied, and which ones have not.

Most have not been well-studied.

For instance, to quote the Feds: “Getting oral sex on the anus from a partner with chlamydia in the throat might result in getting chlamydia in the rectum.” I’ll bet most of us didn’t know that before getting out of bed this morning. But as I said, this is one of those statements on the website that’s “not well-studied.”

So, really, how risky is oral sex? The fact is we simply don’t know. And why is that? Simple: Most people who engage in oral sex also engage in other types of sex, making it impossible to sort out the STD risk from oral sex alone. About the only STD studied well when it comes to oral sex is HIV, and we know from those studies that oral sex is much less likely to spread the virus than vaginal or anal sex; but is the same true for other STDs—some of which are viral and some of which are bacterial?

We just don’t know.

But for perspective, recent stats show that each year there are a little over two million cases of STDs in an adult population of 126 million or so. That gives you an overall risk of STD exposure at 1.5%, although naturally your social demographic and lifestyle may make that much higher or much lower. So, in general, the chance of getting an STD is low in the first place, and probably much lower from engaging in oral sex.

Of course, condoms (and dental dams when appropriate) can lower the risk of STD transmission with oral sex, just as they do with intercourse; and on the flip side, the more partners you have, the greater your risk is. So too is patronizing sex professionals, rather than having oral sex with the girl or boy next door.

The safest bet, of course, is to be in a long-term exclusive sexual relationship with a single partner, where both partners have tested “clean,” which is a recipe pretty much guaranteed to be STD-free. But how realistic is that? The latest “infidelity” stats show that around a third of married folks cheat on their spouses, with men leading the numbers, but plenty of women step out on their hubs, too.

While many find those numbers depressing, at least we can sleep well at night (after oral sex) knowing that no amount of sex or infidelity will give anyone diabetes.

 

This is not a medical advice column. We are PWDs freely and openly sharing the wisdom of our collected experiences — our been-there-done-that knowledge from the trenches. But we are not MDs, RNs, NPs, PAs, CDEs, or partridges in pear trees. Bottom line: we are only a small part of your total prescription. You still need the professional advice, treatment, and care of a licensed medical professional.
Disclaimer: Content created by the Diabetes Mine team. For more details click here.

Disclaimer

This content is created for Diabetes Mine, a consumer health blog focused on the diabetes community. The content is not medically reviewed and doesn't adhere to Healthline's editorial guidelines. For more information about Healthline's partnership with Diabetes Mine, please click here.