Health & Fitness | January 11, 2021 10:35 am

Giving Head Might Be Giving You Cancer

Performing oral sex might put one at a greater risk of contracting HPV

banana
An oral sex banana
Getty Images/iStockphoto

When we talk about performing oral sex, we tend to phrase it as an act of “giving,” but it turns out head-givers might be getting something out the experience as well. Unfortunately, it’s cancer.

Recent research from Johns Hopkins University found a link between performing oral sex and getting human papillomavirus, or HPV. The findings, published in the American Cancer Society’s peer-reviewed journal CANCER, suggested those with more oral sex partners were at a greater risk of developing HPV-related cancers of the mouth and throat. Specifically, the research indicates that performing oral sex on just 10 prior partners is linked to a 4.3-times greater risk of developing HPV-related cancer.

In addition to a higher number of previous partners, other risk factors researchers identified include age of “sexual initiation,” the age of one’s partners, and having more partners in a shorter timespan. Perhaps surprisingly, the study did not denote the gender makeup of those who participated, suggesting that when it comes to oral sex and any applicable carcinogenic properties, that variable is of little consequence.

According to the research, the younger you were when you were “sexually initiated,” (or in other words, started giving oral sex), the higher your risk of getting HPV. Those who performed oral sex on older partners were also found to be at a greater risk. Giving oral sex of an extramarital nature was also found to be an HPV risk factor.

Moreover, while many of us probably came of age following an unofficial sexual rulebook that encouraged us to make a stop at each base before rounding home, it seems we might have been better off if we’d been “initiated” with a home run instead. The study notes that those who gave oral sex before engaging in penetrative sexual intercourse for the first time were also more likely to contract HPV. According to the researchers, initial exposure to the virus through the genitals prompts a “robust immune response” that better protects the body against HPV when it’s later introduced orally. But if you go straight for the mouth without giving your genitals the chance to trigger this immune response, you’re pretty much on your own.

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