Things You Didn't Know About Oral Sex
National statistics show that most Americans have some experience with oral sex, beginning in the early teen years. Almost half of teens and almost 90% of adults aged 25-44 have ever had oral sex with someone of the opposite sex, according to a CDC survey done between 2006 and 2008.
Oral sex can be an enjoyable, healthy part of an adult relationship. But there are some things that many people don't know about oral sex. Here are four facts that might surprise you.
1. Oral sex is linked to throat cancer. Cancer? Yes, you can get throat cancer from oral sex, says American Cancer Society Chief Medical Officer Otis Brawley, MD. It's not oral sex, per se, that causes cancer, but the human papillomavirus (HPV), which can be passed from person to person during sex, including oral sex. Researchers have found that some cancers of the oropharynx (the middle of the throat) and tonsils are probably caused by a certain type of human papillomavirus (HPV). HPV is common, but it doesn't always cause cancer. If you aren't exposed to HPV during oral sex, you're not at risk for cancer.
2. Oral sex enhances some adult relationships, strains others. Among adults, oral sex causes stress for some couples and enhances intimacy for others, says sex therapist Louanne Cole Weston, PhD, of Fair Oaks, Calif. She says stress about oral sex often has to do with one partner's concerns about hygiene. "One person will not want to receive it because he or she worries about the partner's reaction," Weston says. Some people may also be anxious about their performance -- doing it well enough to please a partner -- or about responding appropriately to receiving it. "Some people can't just let go and receive," Weston says.
3. Unprotected oral sex is common, but has risks. Several sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), including HIV, herpes, syphilis, gonorrhea, HPV, and viral hepatitis can be passed on through oral sex. "Oral sex is not safe sex," says Terri Warren, RN, owner of Westover Heights Clinic in Portland, Ore., a private clinic specializing in STDs. "It's safer sex, but it's definitely not safe sex." The risks depend on a lot of different things, including how many sexual partners you have, your gender, and what particular oral sex acts you engage in.
4. Oral sex is common among teens. Many U.S. teens have oral sex before they have vaginal sex. And they don't view it as very risky, says Bonnie Halpern-Felsher, PhD, a pediatrics professor at the University of California, San Francisco. Compared with vaginal sex, "They really don't consider it as big of a deal," Halpern-Felsher tells WebMD. Past surveys Halpern-Felsher conducted showed that most teens thought that engaging in oral sex would not put them at risk for social, emotional, or health problems. Other surveys she has performed showed teens who said they only had oral sex were less likely than those who had vaginal sex or vaginal and oral sex to report STDs. Still, there were STDs among all three groups of sexually active teens. Just under 2% of teens who said they'd only had oral sex said they caught an STI, compared with about 5% of those who had vaginal sex only, and 13% of those who had vaginal and oral sex.