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Not-So-Free Love

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Hollywood’s Michael Douglas recently dropped a bombshell in revealing the cause of his throat cancer, which was diagnosed in 2010, during an interview with the U.K. Guardian newspaper published June 2, 2013. The culprit? Human papillomavirus (HPV).

According to the article’s author, Xan Brooks, Douglas claims he contracted HPV through oral sex.  Granted, two days later, Douglas’ publicist, Allen Burry, denied that Douglas said his throat cancer was caused by a sexually transmitted disease (STD). “He wants to make it very clear he never said that was the particular cause of his particular cancer.”

Flubbed communications between actor and publicist notwithstanding, since Mr. Douglas brought up the link between oral sex and HPV, let’s explore what is known.

Concerned Women for America’s 2010 report, “Sexually Transmitted Diseases: The Cost of Free Love,” discussed this link (pp. 9-10):

“Oral sex is linked with throat cancer. An article on reported, ‘People who have had more than five oral sex partners in their lifetime are 250 percent more likely to have throat cancer than those who do not have oral sex, a new study suggests.’ The article says the study shows a link between HPV, oral sex, and throat cancer. The strain HPV-16 was shown to increase the likelihood of throat cancer by 58 percent. The article quoted Maura Gillison of Johns Hopkins as saying, ‘We need to add oral HPV infection to the lists of risks for oral cancer.’ Some people do not consider oral sex to be sex, but as these disease rates show, promiscuous oral sex is clearly a risky behavior.

“A WebMD article reported on a news conference held by the American Association for Cancer Research in July 2009 and stated the following: ‘The experts agreed that it is critical for the public to understand that oral sex does not equal safe sex. The message was unofficially promoted in the early days of the HIV epidemic, and it is still widely believed by many, especially teens. Studies suggest that teens are often unaware of the risks associated with unprotected oral sex, including the transmission of HPV, Chlamydia and Gonorrhea.’”

An ABC News article from June 3, 2013, has even more disturbing numbers: “63 percent of the estimated 11,726 cases of oropharyngeal cancers diagnosed each year in the United States are thought to be caused by HPV, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention,” and “HPV-related head, neck and throat cancers are on the rise — by more than 225 percent between 1988 and 2004, according to one study in the Journal of Clinical Oncology.”

While many who read Douglas’ quote cringed and thought, “TMI,” he may have started an important national discussion about the link between oral sex and HPV. It’s a pretty safe bet most children are not learning about it in their “comprehensive sex-ed” classes.


Sexually Transmitted Diseases: The Cost of Free Love,” is published for the Web via Adobe Acrobat and is available as a full download. For slower connections, it may also be downloaded in separate components: Narrative and Appendix A, and Appendix B. A brochure is also available.
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