Life might suck very badly if you practise oral sex

News

Life might suck very badly if you practise oral sex

People who indulge in it are exposing themselves to greater risk of mouth and throat cancer, research reveals

Cape Town bureau chief


Oral sex’s relative lack of popularity among some South Africans could be saving them from mouth and throat cancer, according to research published in a science journal.
Among whites who attended a Pretoria dental clinic, 42% reported practising oral sex, while 22% of blacks said the same.
Neil Wood, from the oral health school at Sefako Makgatho Health Sciences University, said this may be protecting some South Africans from cancer linked to the human papillomavirus (HPV) infection.
Writing about his team’s findings in the journal PLOS One, he said: “The relatively low frequency of oral sex may explain why despite the fact that in SA the prevalence of genital HPV infection is as high as 22.1% among women the prevalence of oral HPV infection is relatively low.”
The researchers asked 850 patients about their tobacco, betel nut and oral sex practices, but only 514 answered the questions about oral sex – something Wood said was probably linked to a cultural and societal taboo.
“We believe that forcing this sensitive topic on this population would have greatly reduced participating,” he said.
The data from 475 black patients who did answer the questions showed that younger respondents were much more likely to practise oral sex.
“Considering that oral sex is a significant source of exposure to HPV, oral sex may partly explain why HPV-associated [throat cancer] is more common among younger people,” said Wood, adding that the results should be treated with caution because some participants may have given “sociably desirable” responses that understated their use of oral sex.
Oral cancer – squamous cell carcinoma – is the sixth-most common cancer and the sixth-largest cause of cancer deaths worldwide. It kills half of its victims within five years, and Wood said the most important risk factors were smoking, heavy drinking, chewing betel nuts and a diet low in fresh fruit and vegetables.
However, HPV-related throat cancer was on the increase, and it was linked to patients having sex at a younger age, having numerous partners and practising oral sex.
“The practice of oral sex by younger adults has been characterised as a normative social practice that is less intimate [and done] in an effort to avoid pregnancy and as a ‘benefit-provisioning mate retentive behaviour’,” said Wood, referring to a 2015 study of 410 young women who said they performed fellatio as a way of expressing love and care to their male partner.
The team at Sefako Makgatho – previously Medunsa – found “significant racial differences” in the practice of oral sex and tobacco use, “with white South Africans most likely to report both risk behaviours for oral and oropharyngeal [throat] cancer”.
Wood added: “On the one hand, oral sex increases the risk of HPV exposure, and on the other hand smoking reduces the clearance of HPV, which means that white South Africans who are more likely to both smoke and practise oral sex may be at a higher risk [of HPV].
“It is nevertheless pertinent to note that in this study, smoking was not significantly related with oral sex practice.”

This article is reserved for Times Select subscribers.
A subscription gives you full digital access to all Times Select content.

Times Select

Already subscribed? Simply sign in below.

Questions or problems?
Email helpdesk@timeslive.co.za or call 0860 52 52 00.

Previous Article