Bad News For Women Who Love Giving Head — Oral Sex Is The Biggest Risk Factor For Throat Cancer

Sex isn’t all about penetration. There’s a lot to be said for going down on your partner too. There’s a power and pleasure in the experience that P-in-V doesn’t always give you. Given that humans started having oral sex thousands of years ago, this is a well-known fact. However, as good as it feels to make your partner squirm while you have them in your mouth, there is a serious downside. Oral sex is now considered the single biggest risk factor for throat cancer.

  1. Throat cancer is more common than you would think. Over the past couple of years, throat cancer rates have shot up, specifically a type known as oropharyngeal cancer that affects the back of the throat and tonsils.
  2. What causes this type of cancer? HPV, the same STI that causes cervical cancer. However, Orophyngeal cancer is now even more common than cervical cancer in the US and UK thanks to our love of going down on each other.
  3. Of course, this is more about volume than frequency. According to research published in The New England Journal of Medicine, people who have six or more oral sex partners throughout their lifetime are 8.5 times more likely to develop throat cancer than those who don’t go down on partners at all. And yes, this affects people of all genders.

How can oral sex cause throat cancer?

  1. Oral sex is more prevalent in some countries than others. However, the reasons why aren’t 100% clear. The most widely accepted working theory is that while HPV infections are common, most of them are eventually cleared entirely. That being said, there are some people in whom the virus will lay dormant for some time, potentially their entire lives. In those people, it’s possible for cells to mutate and become cancerous.
  2. Of course, all hope isn’t lost. The HPV vaccine can not only prevent cervical cancer in girls and women if administered at the right age, but cursory research suggests it may even prevent contracting oral HPV as well. Furthermore, there are studies that report “herd immunity” in boys in countries where HPV vaccination uptake in girls is highest. Combined, that could lead to a reduction of throat cancer rates even if oral sex practices remain popular (which is pretty likely, to be fair).
  3. Boys can get the HPV vaccine, too. As we learn more about the HPV vaccine’s effectiveness, more countries including the US, UK, and Australia are opening it up to young boys, as well. However, unless there’s a significant uptake in society, the protective benefits it offers may not be experienced or appreciated by the grand majority of the population.

So, how can you protect yourself?

  1. Knowing the risks of oral sex is half the battle. The next step is protecting yourself while still having rewarding, pleasurable sexual relationships with the partners of your choosing. The best way to practice safe oral sex and avoid contracting HPV and other STIs (and therefore reducing your chances of developing throat cancer) is to use a condom when giving a guy a blow job or a dental dam if going down on a female partner.
  2. And hey, it’s not all about your protection. If your partner is going down on you, they should also use a dental dam as a protective barrier. It’s not offensive or insinuating that you’re somehow unclean or infectious. It’s all about being safe and responsible, and that’s sexy.
Piper Ryan is a NYC-based writer and matchmaker who works to bring millennials who are sick of dating apps and the bar scene together in an organic and efficient way. To date, she's paired up more than 120 couples, many of whom have gone on to get married. Her work has been highlighted in The New York Times, Time Out New York, The Cut, and many more.

In addition to runnnig her own business, Piper is passionate about charity work, advocating for vulnerable women and children in her local area and across the country. She is currently working on her first book, a non-fiction collection of stories focusing on female empowerment.