Does Oral Sex Give You Cancer?

Illustrated by Ly Ngo
Bubblebaths lead to dyslexia; champagne decreases your life span; and cheese toasties give you paranoia. What's next? What other of life’s enjoyments should we sacrifice in the name of a clear bill of health?

Experts are now claiming that about 70% of all head and neck cancers come from human papillomavirus, or HPV, infection, which in layman’s terms, means oral sex could heighten your chances of contracting head and neck cancer. Oh goody.

The science would suggest that the virus can raise the risk of getting head and neck cancer by as much as seven times, and maybe by far more. While HPV does not directly trigger cancer, it causes changes in the cells it has infected (for example, in the throat or cervix), and these cells can then become cancerous. The study also purports that men are twice as likely to get oropharyngeal cancer as women, according to NHS choices, because performing cunnilingus is more risky than fellatio, natch. Spread by skin-to-skin contact, not solely by sex, HPV affects almost everyone at some stage in their life, but most people’s immune system fights it off.

A media furore followed Michael Douglas’ frank interview with The Guardian, where he was asked whether he now regretted his years of smoking and drinking, usually thought to be the cause of the disease, before responding: "No. Because without wanting to get too specific, this particular cancer is caused by HPV [human papillomavirus], which actually comes about from cunnilingus” might be received with less shock today than it was in 2013. Douglas went on to state that “it's a sexually transmitted disease that causes cancer. And if you have it, cunnilingus is also the best cure for it.”

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