From viruses to cancer, we bust four oral sex myths

We look at homemade dental dams and cancer prevalence in older fellatio lovers

04 October 2023 - 14:05
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While oral sex won't cause cancer, experts warn of HPV risks.
While oral sex won't cause cancer, experts warn of HPV risks.
Image: Picture: 123RF/Jarun011


FALSE: Every so often a claim comes out linking HPV and cancer to oral sex with little clarity about how it can happen. Engaging in oral sex does not give you cancer. It is the diseases and viruses that can be carried through it that will.

There have been a number of claims that oral sex is the leading risk factor for throat cancer but this is mainly caused by the human papillomavirus (HPV).

Neil Gross, director of clinical research at the department of head and neck surgery at the Anderson Cancer Center in the US, told fingers can point to HPV mainly because it is a sexually transmitted infection. 

“If you have oral sex partners with increasing numbers, you’re at an increased risk of having HPV infection of the throat," he said, noting the infection can cause oropharyngeal cancer as well as cancer of the cervix, vulva, vagina, penis and anus.

Gross said data collected in 2021 suggests the number of sexual partners and age are complex yet important factors in determining the risk.

"HPV, when transmitted, can live dormant in cells for many years while the host's immune system can keep it in check," said professor of cancer prevention Electra Paskett.

She warned the virus can wake years after infection and integrate the cell's DNA, which causes cells to mutate and develop into cancer. She said this is why some cases of orophyganeal (the oropharynx is the back of the throat) are common among older people who partook in oral sex at younger ages.


FALSE: Allo Health said there are persisting issues with people understanding factors that come into play for consent. It said it is believed rape in terms of oral sex is assumed possible only through lacking consent and through penetration and that only men are culpable.

A court ruling in 2019 received praise for sentencing a father accused of oral raping his daughter with the harshness of any sexual violence. 


TRUE: There are many ways to engage in fellatio, cunnilingus and anilingus. The University of Florida said condoms and dental dams can be used to enjoy safe oral sex. Condoms are cheaper and relatively easy to use. However, they often don't have the best taste when using plain latex. Although expensive, dental dams are designed for oral pleasure.

They shared the following tips for a DIY dental dam that will take you less than a minute: 

  1. Starting with an unlubricated or flavoured condom, carefully remove the condom from the package. Because they cannot be stored safely, homemade dental dams cannot be made ahead of time.
  2. Place a pair of sharp scissors into the cylindrical tube of the condom and cut up to the top/tip. Do not cut all the way through the condom.
  3. Roll the condom flat. You now have a thin, rectangular sheet perfect for use during oral sex.

Tips for storing protective gear:

  • Always store condoms/dental dams in a cool, dry place.
  • Don’t open a condom/dental dam package until you are ready to use it.
  • Never use an old condom/dental dam. Check the date on the package to make sure it has not expired. Don’t use anything older than five years from the date of manufacture.
  • Use only water-based lubricants with latex condoms. Latex condoms become damaged when used with oil-based substances such as petroleum jelly, cooking oil, baby oil, mineral oil and skin lotions as lubricants.
  • Not into latex? Try polyurethane condoms. Polyurethane is often considered better than latex in several ways: it conducts heat better than latex, can be used with oil-based lubricants and does not have an odour. 


TRUE: There is no evidence that oral sex will get you pregnant. However, sperm can be strong swimmers as even pre-ejaculation fluid may contain sperm during penetration.

ABC News reported on a case of a 15-year-old girl who fell pregnant without a vagina. The defect is known as Mullerian agenesis. The girl was not aware that she was pregnant. She said 278 days before going into labour, she performed fellatio with a new boyfriend but when her former lover caught them a knife fight ensued that resulted in her being stabbed.

Doctors explained: "A plausible explanation for this pregnancy is that spermatozoa gained access to the reproductive organs via the injured gastrointestinal tract."

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