Let’s be real, oral sex (if you’re into it) can be really pleasurable and sometimes, even better at helping you climax than the act of penetrative sex itself. However, the news of oral sex being able to cause oral cancer has been circulating the internet for quite some time and people have become apprehensive about letting their partner go down on them. The thought of contracting any sort of disease, let alone being vulnerable to cancer, is extremely anxiety-inducing and could hamper one’s sex life. While these claims are not unfounded, this is what you need to know about oral sex, how it could cause cancer and how to prevent it by practising safe oral sex with your partner-
This is what you need to know about HPV and oral cancer
Oral cancer, also sometimes called head and neck cancers could include cancer of mouth, lip and tongue, as well as cancers of the tonsils, oesophagus, larynx (voice box), nasopharynx (the area that connects the nose and throat) and the thyroid gland.
While researchers are aware of how alcohol and tobacco could cause any of the above mentioned oral cancer’s, recent evidence proves that some types of oral cancer could also be caused by the human papillomavirus (HPV) infection in the mouth and throat. In fact, various studies prove that 25% of mouth and 35% of throat cancers are HPV-related. This is why it is crucial that people are aware of how the HPV virus is transmitted as well as how to avoid it.
How exactly does HPV cause oral cancer?
While the HPV does not directly cause cancer in one’s body, it definitely causes changes in the cell. These infected cells then undergo rapid changes and ultimately, become cancerous.
On a more promising note, only a few people who find themselves infected with the HPV virus actually go on to develop oral cancer. In fact, 90% of infections seem to clear out from the body itself within 2 years.
How does one’s mouth get infected with HPV?
With over 100 different types of HPV, 15 of them are extremely high risk. These types of HPV that are found in the mouth are transmitted sexually and can be passed onto your partner through oral, vaginal or anal sex. Apart from oral cancer, these high-risk HPVs are also linked to causing-
- Cervical cancer
- Vulval and vaginal cancer
- Anal cancer
- Penile cancer
- Laryngeal cancer
- Tonsil cancer
Apart from sexual transmission, this kind of HPVs can also be passed on through skin-to-skin contact and caused warts, including genital warts.
Who is at risk for HPV?
A study, published in The New England Journal of Medicine in 2007, stated that people who engaged in oral sex with more than 6 different partners were more likely to develop oropharyngeal cancer. This was concluded after the DNA signature of the HPV type 16 virus was found in those people.
In fact, 90% of sexually active people have been predicted to be exposed to some type of high or low-risk genital HPV. While it is not really known how common HPV infection of the mouth is, studies show that it was seen in 10% of American men and 3.6% of American women.
As far as age is concerned, the age groups between 30-34 and 60-64 were seen to be more at risk for the development of HPV related diseases. So, if you are anxious about developing this type of cancer, it is better to watch out for symptoms.
Symptoms of oral cancer
If caught on early, it is easier to treat and beat this type of cancer. Some of the symptoms of oral cancer to watch out for are-
- red – or red and white – patches on your tongue or the lining of your mouth
- one or more mouth ulcers that do not heal after three weeks
- a swelling in your mouth that lasts for more than three weeks
- pain when swallowing
- a feeling as though something is stuck in your throat
While this may sound like a grave situation, there is a way out of it.
How useful is the HPV vaccine?
Oral sex is an important part of maintaining a healthy sex life as well as a healthy relationship with your partner. As much as having fun is important in a relationship, so is staying safe and this is why the HPV vaccine is beneficial. In fact, in the UK girls aged 12 and 13 are routinely given the HPV vaccine. It helps women prevent HPV related cervical, vulval, oral, anal and vaginal cancer.
According to Healthily, “In time, as the HPV vaccine reduces the number of cases of HPV infection in women, HPV will become less common in the general population – therefore, it will affect fewer men as well as fewer women.”
While a readily available vaccine is beneficial in the transmission of a disease, the priority should be preventing the onset of the infection in the first place.
Always practice safe oral sex
‘Prevention is better than cure’ is a statement that rings extremely true in the case of sexually transmitted diseases. Practising safe oral sex will not only prevent any unwanted transmission of diseases but it will also keep your partner and you safe. These are some of the ways you could practice safe oral sex-
- Always use protection - Whether it is penetrative or oral sex, it is always advised to use protection. Even if you are in a relationship, using barrier protection will prevent transmission of any kind of STI. If you’re the kind of person who does not prefer using condoms while specifically performing oral sex, don't worry, there is another option out there - Oral dams. They are made especially for oral sex and can be used to satisfy your partner via cunnilingus, anilingus or fellatio. While buying oral damns could be somewhat expensive, there are ways for you to make your own DIY dental dam to stay safe the next time you and your partner get steamy in the bedroom.
- Be vigilant - Things may get lost in the heat of the moment but it is always better to keep an eye out for any suspicious bumps or lesions on you or your partner. The presence of any sort of red bumps, lesions, warts, discharge or growths should indicate that something is wrong and should be immediately checked out by a doctor to stay on the safe side.
Paranoia about being safe during sex at all times could be anxiety-inducing. While it is practical and is definitely the sensible way to be, it could cause the fun in the act to vanish. Being cautious about your sexual partners, sex habits and maintaining good sexual hygiene is exactly what is needed to maintain a healthy sex life while keeping your partner and you safe.