The whole "no glove, no love" mantra has become a staple of sex-ed, specifically penetrative sex, but not oral. Should we be concerned that unprotected oral sex might actually be more damaging than we think? With Michael Douglas' public announcement that his cancer was caused by a strain of HPV he contracted through cunnilingus, we might want to start raising some red flags when it comes to going down.
Salon's Jake Blumgart dove deep into this subject for a well researched op-ed that went up earlier this week. His exploration shed light on some staggering statistics that illuminate our society's nonchalant regard toward safe oral sex, while simultaneously giving us more of a reason to exercise caution. The Journal of the American Medical Association conducted a study in 2012 that revealed that 3.8% of women and 10% of men have HPV in their throats. Though, Blumgart is quick to note that the presence of the virus does not necessarily lead to cancer.
It's true that unprotected oral sex is safer than unprotected penetrative sex, when it comes to transmitting HIV. That does not mean other STDs like gonorrhea, herpes, chlamydia, syphilis, and hepatitis B are impossible to transmit through oral sex, though. But most sex-ed programs have enough on their plates dealing with the basics of vaginal sex. Angel Brown, the senior program manager of Advocates for Youth GLBTQ Health and Rights, believes this should change: "We don’t have specific campaigns right now for oral sex [and] I’ve never come across any campaigns specifically designed to oral sex." According to Fred Wyand, the director of the American Social Health Association, "More and more we are getting evidence that we need to talk about it pretty robustly." Wise words, considering a Yale University study showed that 70% of teens and 82% of adults engage in unprotected oral sex. Aside from abstinence, condoms and dental dams are our best arsenal against transmitting STDs. We know this. It's been ingrained in our heads since middle school; so, why are the percentages of those who refrain from using them so high?
Blumgart believes the problem isn't blatant disregard, but the lack of eroticism that comes with slipping on a condom before oral sex. He also believes that the sex-worker industry can teach us a few things about how to properly protect ourselves. Sex workers have found ways to make these preventive actions sexy. We and Blumgart both believe that raising awareness is the first step towards getting people to engage in protected sex of all kinds, because right now, according to the Center for Disease Control, we're far from perfect. It's a difficult, but necessary, challenge to show the public the value in protecting ourselves in every situation, even if it's just foreplay — not to mention a more inclusive, realistic view of safe sex that takes into account more than just your standard missionary. (Salon)