Monday, July 22, 2013

Oral Sex & Oral Cancer

Oral sex and oral cancer - Blog Entry #2!

Michael Douglas’ announcement that HPV (the Human Papillomavirus) caused his throat cancer - and that he got HPV from performing oral sex on a woman (cunnilingus) - happened over a month ago. In our fast paced world, this makes it old news. However, the potential health consequences of HPV, which have been with us a while, are concerning enough that they deserve a little more time in the spotlight. 

You can find a number of quick facts about the HPV virus through great online resources (; Here’s my run down on the more important notes:

      • 70% of sexually active adults will have some strand of HPV in their life
      • Did you know there were multiple strands of HPV? Some are harmless and even go away on their own. Worrisome ones cause warts and various cancers.
      • You CAN get STIs (sexually transmitted infections) from oral sex! (Anal sex too for that matter, but that’s a conversation for another day.) This includes HPV.
      • You can protect yourself from passing these infections and diseases by using what’s called “barrier” protection: Before you put your mouth on someone’s privates, be sure to use the following:
        • A condom on a penis
        • A dental dam on a vulva/clitoris/vaginal opening/anus 
What’s a dental dam? Imagine a condom cut in half, laid over someone’s vulva/clitoris/vaginal opening (or anus!). Like condoms, dental dams are most often made of latex, although latex-free versions are available, and they come in a variety of colors and even flavors! About 6 square inches, they lay across the area that will be licked or kissed. They are thin enough that the receiving partner can still feel the sensations of the other’s mouth without the mouth and the genitals/anus having to touch. This is a great way to protect both partners while still experiencing oral sexual pleasure. (It also protects you both from transmitting cold sores, AKA herpes!)

Dental dams are not as widely available as condoms, but they should be! If you can’t find them at your doctor’s office, community health center, or pharmacy, you can order them online or cut a condom in half (lengthwise) and use it! Here are a couple options for online ordering:

Here’s the kicker - when was the last time you heard of someone using a condom or dental dam during oral sex? If you haven’t, you’re not alone. Numerous studies have shown that most people don’t use protection during oral sex. 

If it’s so uncommon, how are we supposed to approach our partners about adding this protective measure to our sex sessions?

  1. Don’t be afraid to ask for it. Requesting that your partner protect your health and their own by using protection during oral sex is one of the most considerate and responsible things you can do.
  2. It’s always helpful to educate your partner. Share Michael’s story (and this blog!) and get them thinking! Explain that you want to protect both your health and theirs. Let them ask questions; if you don’t know the answers, explore the above resources together!
  3. Improve the experience: using flavored lube on both sides of the condom or dental dam will increase the physical sensation for the receiving partner and the taste for the giving partner! They even make warming and tingling lubes - these might be better for the partner receiving oral sex, unless you want your tongue to tingle! 
  4. Get the HPV vaccine. Called “gardasil,” it’s been approved for females and males age 11-26 - ask your doctor or community health clinic if it’s right for you. There are even financial assistance programs to help pay for the cost!
  5. Get tested - unfortunately, an HPV test only exists for females. Called a pap smear, it involves testing cells inside the vagina for the virus. Males find out they have it when the doctors diagnose a virus-caused symptom like warts or cancer.
  6. Stay informed - your sexual health is one of the few things in life you can control. Stay educated, stay healthy, stay safe!

More on Oral Sex, Oral Health and Orogenital Infections:

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