4 Things You Didn't Know About Oral Sex
The truth about oral sex, from cancer risk to what teens say about it.
1. Oral sex is linked to throat cancer. continued...
It's still unclear how many people get HPV throat infections by oral sex, or how many of them get oropharyngeal cancer, Brawley reports.
Both men and women can have an HPV infection in the throat. "It doesn't discriminate by gender," Brawley says.
"The population that I thought would be least likely to get it was the first population to have this problem," he says. That population was heterosexual men aged 40-50.
Doctors know, however, that oropharyngeal cancers caused by HPV are easier to treat than those caused by factors like smoking and drinking.
Brawley says the best prevention method is still unclear, but "in terms of public awareness, this information certainly should be available to people," he says.
Expanding the use of the HPV vaccine could be one approach, but Brawley says, "I'm not sure that we have studies enough to make a blanket assertion that this is a reason to vaccinate boys for HPV." The FDA has approved the HPV vaccine Gardasil for males aged 9-26 -- but only to help prevent genital warts in those boys and young men, not as a way to curb HPV infection in their partners. The CDC's Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices allows but doesn’t require boys as young as 9 to get Gardasil.
2. Oral sex enhances some adult relationships, strains others.
Among adults, oral sex causes stress for some couples and enhances intimacy for others, says sex therapist Louanne Cole Weston, PhD, of Fair Oaks, Calif. She says stress about oral sex often has to do with one partner's concerns about hygiene.
"One person will not want to receive it because he or she worries about the partner's reaction," Weston says.
Some people may also be anxious about their performance -- doing it well enough to please a partner -- or about responding appropriately to receiving it. "Some people can't just let go and receive," Weston says.
Sexual power dynamics may be part of it, too.
"Some people resist doing it because they feel a bit subjugated," Weston says. Her advice for those people: "They have a very important body part between their teeth; and after all, who is in charge in a position like that?"
Other people, Weston says, experience oral sex as a "relationship strengthener" and "a very intimate connection" shared with a partner. "It's being able to look at the partner and see them going into really very personal space," Weston says.