Can Giving Oral Sex Cause Cancer?

Oral sex can transmit STD’s if you’re not careful to protect yourself and reduce your risk. Infections like chlamydia and gonorrhea can be transmitted from the genitals to the mouth and throat, but most of the time, mild to moderate infections can be treated with a course of antibiotics.

This alone may make people feel that they don’t need to use protection during oral sex, but think again – because giving your partner cunnilingus or fellatio may do more harm than you originally thought. Can giving oral sex cause cancer later in life?

HPV The Leading Cause Of Throat Cancers In The U.S.

Until recently, the scientific community believed that tobacco use, both cigarettes and smokeless tobacco, was the leading cause of throat and mouth cancer in the United States. However, this status has changed as more research and statistics become available and tobacco is no longer the front runner for causing abnormalities in the throat and mouth.

A sexually transmitted disease called HPV – better known as human papilloma virus – has now taken the lead in causing these types of cancers. Ohio State University alum Dr. Maura Gillson reports that HPV is responsible for 64% of throat and mouth cancers in the U.S., while the remainder of the world still touts tobacco as the leading cause of this type of cancer.

Other cancers that can be caused by the human papilloma virus are cervical cancer, cancer of the genitals including the vagina and the penis and some cancers within the anus or colon.

What Is HPV?

The CDC reports that HPV is the most common sexually transmitted disease. You may have heard of “genital warts” – this is because HPV causes small, cauliflower-like bumps to appear on the affected area. However, the warts may not appear in all cases of HPV. Many men and women who carry the infection do not show any outward symptoms at all and may not even be aware that they are infected.

There are over forty strains of HPV, most of which do not affect the body at all. The CDC reports that in almost 90% of HPV cases, the virus is naturally cleared from the body by its own immune system in two years or less. Because some strains of the disease cause genital warts and other strains cause cancer, it is unknown within the medical community which strains will cause what problems.

How Can You Get HPV From Oral Sex?

Being exposed to the human papilloma virus in any way will increase your risk for cancer significantly. The virus is usually spread through genital to genital contact, such as during sex, but can also spread from mouth to genital contact such as with oral sex.

The disease knows no boundaries – it doesn’t matter if you’re gay or straight, bi-sexual or even if it’s been years since you had sexual contact with someone who was infected with the virus. It is also possible to contract and carry more than one strain of HPV at a time, therefore increasing your risk for cancer even more.

If you perform oral sex on someone that is infected with HPV, you’re not going to get cancer right away. It usually takes many years for the cancer to develop, because it takes time for the cells in the affected area of your body to mutate into cancer cells. You’re not going to tell that your cells are mutating and becoming abnormal either – that is, until you actually develop cancer and begin to show symptoms of it such as noticing a lump or tumor in the neck or blood tests for cancer markers come up positive.

Why Teens Are More At Risk

Teens have the highest risk of developing cancer later in life from an HPV infection contracted during their high school years. Why is this? Most teens don’t consider cunnilingus or fellatio as actual sex – to them, it doesn’t count. Teens may know that they need to use a condom during regular sex, however, if they’re trying to maintain their virginity or don’t want to risk getting an STD or getting pregnant, they may forgo intercourse all together in lieu of oral sex.

While oral sex generally can be safer than traditional vaginal intercourse, these days it’s not. This is because while abstinence and safe sex programs go over STD’s that can be transmitted through sexual intercourse, oral sex is rarely, if ever, mentioned as a probable source of contracting and spreading these diseases. Parents also drop the ball here, because many parents may cover the basics when it comes to choosing abstinence or having safer sex but they fail to talk about all forms of sex – including oral and anal sex – and how they can all contribute to the spread of STD’s.

Many teens feel that because their school didn’t discuss the dangers of oral or anal sex and their parents didn’t either – plus, it allows them to technically maintain their virginity, so they really aren’t having “sex” anyways – that it’s completely safe. Sex education programs in the United States should start recognizing oral sex and anal sex as common among teens and include information about how these types of activities can contribute to the spread of STD’s. They should also provide information on how men and women can protect themselves during these activities.

Parents, however, are where the buck truly stops when it comes to educating their teens on how to have safer sex. Most parents aren’t well versed in how STD’s are spread and how to protect against transmission, simply because their parents never told them, their schools surely didn’t and many of them have been in monogamous relationships for several years. Many parents, due to lack of sexual education for themselves, may very well be practicing unsafe sex and oral sex themselves – so how are they supposed to teach their children how to stay safe?

How To Protect Yourself

Learn as much as you can about sexually transmitted diseases, including HPV, and how they are spread. Realize that any sexual contact – including oral sex, fingering, anal sex and other types of sexual contact – has at least some risk associated with it and many activities post a higher risk than others. Do yourself a favor and visit the CDC website for up to date information on STD’s.

Always wear a condom during sex, oral and anal sex. For cunnilingus, dental dams can be used to protect the giving partner. Learn how to use these properly to decrease your risk and if whoever your partner is doesn’t want to use them, find a new lover. There is no pleasure that is worth carrying around an STD for the rest of your life or getting cancer when you’re fifty because that one time you decided you couldn’t be bothered with a dental dam or a condom.

Remember to get tested for sexually transmitted diseases often – almost all public health clinics offer this testing for free. There’s no reason not to and you should also insist that your partner be tested as well. This is especially true if you’re both considering a monogamous relationship in which you plan to have unprotected sex, anal sex and oral sex.

Knowledge is power – educate yourself and stay safe!


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