VIDEO: Could HPV cause the death of oral pleasure?Monday, May 16, 2011
By DONNA HUSSEY-WHYTE All Woman writer
NEWS of the link between oral sex and oral cancer isn't sitting well with persons who engage in the act — including teens and Christians who have believed for years that they could keep their virtue and remain pure, even while letting off steam by going down.
It was United States President Bill Clinton who verbalised what many people in many countries took as fact, when he failed, during the Monica Lewinsky scandal of the late 1990s, to categorise oral sex as real sex. He did finally, after much prodding, admit to sexual relations with Lewinsky, a White House intern, but before that, had tried to make a distinction between the oral sex he'd received and "real sex".
Similarly, many men who cheat use the line, insisting that cheating begins with penetration.
Thirty-seven-year-old Wayne W, who has been married for nine years, said he has never cheated on his wife. However, there are times when he is so stressed that he will visit his girlfriend, who is also married, and they will have guilt free oral sex.
"Oral sex only relieves pent-up tensions but that's not cheating," he reasoned. "If I kiss a woman I don't consider it cheating and oral sex is like kissing to me."
Similarly, Ann-Marie H recalled years ago as a teen when she would indulge in oral sex but held onto her virginity. She said while she felt some amount of guilt afterwards, she was also satisfied that she never had intercourse until years later when she got married.
But, according to new research, not only is oral sex responsible for one of the fastest spreading cancers around, but the incidences of oral sex related Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) cases are on the increase.
And for many persons, including those who have felt they were not ready for full-on sexual intercourse, and who have used it to relieve sexual tension, it's a problem that's spiralling out of control.
So bad is the problem, that more and more doctors are reporting seeing cases of women, hymens still intact, suffering from oral cancer and HPV, a virus known to cause cervical cancer. There are over 120 different types of HPV viruses with an approximate 40 types associated with infections/malignancies of the mouth and the genital tract -- including cervical diseases and oral cancer, anorectal cancer and penile cancer.
Gynaecologist at the Ripon Surgi-Centre Dr Charles Rockhead said that while persons are of the view that oral sex is not as risky as actual penetration sex, diseases can be spread. He explained that HPV can be transferred from the mouth to the genital tract in either the male or female by this method.
A study presented during an American Association for the Advancement of Science meeting in February suggested that HPV is being spread rapidly through oral sex and has outranked tobacco use and heavy drinking as the leading cause of 64 per cent of oral cancers among young American men.
Risk increased with the number of partners on which someone had performed oral sex.
"The study has shown that when a person, male or female has more than six partners with whom they have oral sex, there is a nine times increased risk of developing oral cancer," Dr Rockhead explained. "This is startling when compared to the risk associated with cigarette smoking which has a 2.5 to 3.0 times risk of oral cancer, and alcohol ingestion which is a 2.0 times risk."
He said if the practice of oral sex continues as it is now, there will be an epidemic of oral cancer.
"This is something that needs extensive public education about sexual practices so that we can have a change in how individuals -- young people and older people -- adapt themselves to prevent these things from happening," he said.
But with Jamaicans having finally embraced oral sex, it may be an uphill battle.
Dr Sidney McGill said as a practising sex therapist for over 20 years, he has seen increasing freedom in Jamaicans talking about sex, and an increase in the practice of fellatio and cunnilingus among persons who have secondary and post-secondary school training.
"The practice of choosing oral over penetrative sex is a practice carried out especially by the young who feel they are not ready for intercourse," he said.
He said young, unmarried Christians and persons who have extramarital affairs will have oral sex but not intercourse.
"Many secondary school students do not see oral sex as sexual intercourse and more readily engage in the practice since they believe that sexual intercourse involves vaginal penetration," McGill said. "The schools have been teaching a lot about safe sex, and so you find that children are aware of sex and sexual practices and they will say, 'if we can just do it in the schoolyard, after school, in an old building'... and to them that is safe sex or no sex at all.
"There are also the Christians, especially Christian young people who know that they are not supposed to have sex until they are married, and so they do have these sexual tensions and they get into relationships and the tensions get very high and they think they have to find some way of draining that tension off. And so oral sex comes in pretty handy there."
The solution? Dr McGill said the alternative to oral sex for Christians is to develop friendships and social liasions where there is no temptation.
For persons who do not have Christian restrictions, they should stick to one partner.
Because, as Dr Rockhead said, even a condom or dental dam does not necessarily prevent the transfer of the virus from one person to another, as even the rubbing of pubic hair to pubic hair can transfer it.
And the HPV vaccine only covers four or five of the sub types of the virus, and has only been tested for use against cervical cancer. Also, Dr Rockhead said, HPV is not widely tested for in Jamaica as it is done through the local DNA testing laboratory, and it is expensive.
"It is so expensive you can't test everybody and if you test and find you have it, what are you doing to do? So it is best to educate the population. Education is cheap," he said.
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