Laurie Toby Edison

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“Oral Sex”: Forbidden Subject + HPV Causes Cancer

Debbie says:

I was browsing something else the other day when I saw a sidebar headline that said, more or less, “Michael Douglas reveals that oral sex caused his throat cancer.” I didn’t click the link at the time.

Today, I find Jessica Luther saying “We need a better way to talk about cunnilingus.”

So, Michael Douglas mentioned cunnilingus in an interview (and whether he *should* have is a different post) and everyone blushed, giggled, and immediately stopped making eye contact with everyone else. Or they said “gross” and acted like they were embarrassed for him.”

  • I wish Douglas good luck with his health; he has been through hard times and is still undergoing regular check-ups for recurrence.
  • Of course we don’t have a good way to talk about cunnilingus. We don’t have a good way to talk about any kind of sex, pretty much, and the ways that please women are lowest on the list. Douglas may (I hope!) be moving us further along the trail blazed by Lorena Bobbitt in 1993, when she cut off the end of her husband John’s dick and forced the national news to learn how to say “penis” on television.
  • I think Douglas absolutely should have talked about this. I didn’t know about the link between oral sex and oral cancers (and I’m pretty well informed about these things, which means lots of other people also don’t know), so good on him for publicizing it. Also, despite what headlines you may have read, he absolutely did not say that oral sex caused his throat cancer: he said it might have done so, which is accurate.
  • It also means he goes down on his lovers, which not all (heterosexual) men do, and not all (heterosexual) men who do will admit, so good on him for that.

Digging a little into the link between oral sex and oral cancer immediately leads to HPV (human papillomavirus) as the cause. I was already aware of the link between HPV and cervical cancer, and wrote here several years ago about some of the controversy surrounding HPV vaccination.At least one study seems to show that oral sex in the presence of HPV not only causes oral cancers, the presence of HPV also vastly increases a person’s likelihood of surviving oral cancers when they happen.

Two vaccines against HPV exist; both are generally only effective in people young enough not to have been exposed to HPV. Both are owned and marketed by Big Pharma, which has a vested interest in making them mandatory. (Why did so-called conservative Texas governor Rick Perry support mandatory HPV vaccination? Whose pocket was he in?) Both are better tested in teenage girls than in teenage boys, though there is data indicating that they may be effective with boys as well.

Vaccines in general are surprisingly (and indefensibly) controversial in the United States in the 21st century. The HPV vaccine would almost certainly be controversial even in the days when vaccination was taken for granted, because it implies to parents that their children might *gasp* be sexually active. I continue to believe, as I did in 2007, that I would encourage a pre-teen daughter to get the vaccine; I would do some more research before encouraging a son to do the same (and a son might only be able to depending on where he was living at the time).  I’d also like to see more data on the link between HPV and survival of oral cancers.

The more transparent we can be, the more we can talk about sexual behaviors in a calm, reasoned manner, the better off we are. We’d probably have better ways to talk about sex if we didn’t wait for movies stars and knife-wielding abused wives to open the dialogue, rather than paying attention to scientists and study results. Similarly, we probably wouldn’t wait for the movie stars and knife wielders if we had better ways to talk about sex.

2 Responses to ““Oral Sex”: Forbidden Subject + HPV Causes Cancer”

  1. Lizzie Says:

    That’s funny – I didn’t think of cunnilingus but simply assumed he’d sucked cock in his youth.

  2. Debbie Says:

    I might have made the same assumption if the article I’d seen hadn’t mentioned cunnilingus. Also, my guess is Douglas is much more likely to have “come out” about heterosexual behavior than about same-sex behavior.

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