After Michael Douglas’s revelation that his throat cancer was caused by oral sex, Justin Hancock, a sex educator, explains the risks and how best to protect yourself.
It’s difficult to answer the question ‘how risky is oral sex?’ because many people who have oral sex also have other kinds of sex which may have put them at risk of infections. The risks of STIs (sexually transmitted infections) for oral sex are generally much lower than for unprotected penetrative vaginal or anal sex. Just how risky oral sex is depends on where the people concerned are having oral sex (eg penis, testicles, clitoris, labia, vagina, anus), whether they are giving or receiving and what infection we are talking about.
HPV, (human papillomavirus), which is what Douglas said he contracted and led to his throat cancer (the sexually-transmitted virus is best known as a common cause of cervical cancer), can be transmitted from unprotected oral sex but so can chlamydia, gonorrhoea, syphilis, HSV and Hepatitis. It is worth also mentioning that HIV can be transmitted via oral sex, but the risk is very, very low indeed.