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February 19, 2019

Can oral sex really cause cancer?


Getting cancer from giving head shouldn’t be a worry for most healthy, monogamous couples, according to sexpert Sara Rosenquist.

"During oral sex you can pass on the human papillomavirus (HPV). This has been linked to some head and neck cancers. But links between giving head and cancer are actually more complex," Dr Sara says.

Oral sex used to be more taboo. But these days it’s all the rage. And it’s causing an increase in the number of cases of tonsil and tongue cancer caused by HPV, US cancer experts argued.

But sex therapist Sara Rosenquist claims in a paper this was probably overstating the case, and caused too much fuss in the media.

Couples in healthy relationships probably don’t need to fret about whether they’re going to get cancer by going down on each other, she says. As long as a couple is monogamous and there aren’t any other factors that affect the way their immune systems work, they don’t need to think twice about oral sex.


Kicking the infection

Getting infected with HPV is usually no cause for worry – most people get rid of it within 18 months. Even if the infection does stick around, it doesn’t mean cancer. HPV only becomes risky when the body’s natural defences can’t kick the infection over a long period of time, for example in people who have HIV or AIDS.

HPV can be passed on during sex or in other ways. It’s been linked to cervical cancer but also to some head and neck cancers that have started to show up more among younger people. These types of HPV are different from the kinds that can lead to warts.



Head and neck cancers are extremely rare, and they’re mostly caused by things like smoking or drinking alcohol, not blow jobs. These kinds of cancers can happen in the tongue, tonsils and other parts of the mouth and throat.

But some risk factors for HPV-positive head and neck cancers are related to sex. There’s a link between cancers related to cancer and having a lot of different sex or oral sex partners, as well as oral-anal contact.


Rich and varied sex life

Blow jobs, getting head, going down on someone – whatever you call it... most men and women in most parts of the world have oral sex. But “monogamous couples with a rich and varied sex life” shouldn’t worry too much about all that oral fun giving them a cancer-causing HPV infection, says Sara Rosenquist.

At least, as long as they have a healthy immune system. In fact, for sexually active people, she argues, leading a healthy lifestyle to keep your immune system in good shape is probably the best way of keeping HPV-related cancers at bay.

Poll of the day