If you’ve kept up with queer entertainment in the past several weeks you’ve heard some of the seemingly outlandish comments from Under the Candelabra star Michael Douglas and his assertion that performing oral sex can cause throat cancer. But putting aside Douglas’ personal (maybe too personal) business out there, was there any possible truth to what he said? Well yes, but maybe not how Douglas and other armchair physicians of the media have described. Here’s more:
Are gay men more at risk of throat cancer because of the sexual practice of fellatio?
That became a reasonable question after the revelation by actor Michael Douglas, star of the Liberace bio-pic on HBO, “Behind the Candelabra,” that throat cancer he battled in recent years was caused by the human papilloma virus (HPV), which can be transmitted via oral sex. Dr. Jeffrey Klausner, professor at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA, notes there’s been a spike HPV-related throat cancer since the 1980s, now eclipsing HPV-related cervical cancer in women, and that twice as many men are developing HPV-associated throat cancer than women.
One recent article was skeptical of Douglas’s suggestion that cunnilingus could have been the transmission route because the act doesn’t create contact to the back of the throat. The implication was that gay men (and women) who perform fellatio may be at higher risk since there’s more back-of-the-throat action.
But Klausner, an infectious disease specialist, strongly disagreed, explaining that HPV is easily transmitted, and even deep kissing is a risk factor. And straight men, he noted, actually seem to have a slightly higher prevalence of oral HPV infection than gay men.
“There’s very good evidence that exclusively heterosexual men can have oral HPV infection,” Klausner said in an interview on my SiriusXM OutQ program, calling HPV “the genital cold,” and noting that most sexually-active people have evidence of HPV antibodies. “The CDC does a large study every year. They actually did an oral HPV survey in 2009 and 2010. And they looked at men who had same-sex partners and they looked at men who had opposite-sex partners.”
It’s also important to note like Dr. Klausner noted, this is not a gay disease and can happen to anyone that performs oral sex. In fact, research suggests that this particular strand of HPV as it relates to oral sex is found in straight heterosexual men than gay men or men who have sex with men.
Putting the celebrity drama aside for a moment, this media attention to this phenomenon should be just another reminder to take care of our health by practicing safe sex and taking all precautions and being tested regularly, regardless of sexual orientation.