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Tags: Celebrity

Cancer and Cunnilingus

Michael Douglas and HPV’s PR Problem.
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Michael Douglas’s pronouncement in The Guardian that he got oral cancer from cunninglingus was a nearly perfect concoction of entertainment yellow journalism. Add one part celebrity, one part sex, one part death and voila—a perfect mixture for tabloid journalism headlines and click bait gold. (To his credit, Douglas also added: “And if you have it, cunnilingus is also the best cure for it.")

The “oral sex gave me cancer” line is a perfect set up for late night hosts: Comics will be using a variation of the line —“My wife wanted me to go down on her; I told her I was avoiding cancer”— until it actually becomes commonly accepted fact amongst the general population.

Douglas’ flip comment has done as much damage as it has raised awareness for HPV’s cancer causing strains, 16 and 18— outlined smartly by the Daily Beast which noted that the cervix—where high risk HPV resides, is well out of reach from most tongues. The Beast also noted: “And what about the fact that HPV is found so commonly in the mouth of people, yet oral cancers remain so rare; clearly more is at work than one virus transmitted by oral sex a generation ago.”

Yes, HPV can (possibly) cause oral cancer. But if you read the articles coming out, you would think that HPV-related oral cancer is running rampant in the general population. It’s up 225%! There’s more people having oral sex and therefore, more cancer! More! More! More! Roughly translating into men’s minds as “Eating! Pussy! Bad! Pussy Bad! Dirty! Ew!”

Over one million people get cancer in America every year. According to the Center For Disease Control and the National Program of Cancer Registries, oral cancer is on the bottom end of the top 10 cancers among all men in the U.S. In 2009, oral cancer had an incident rate of  .0165% of the total male population, or 16.5 out of 100,000 people and ranked eighth on the list. Numero uno, prostate cancer, had an incident rate of .1377% of the total male population, or 137.7 out of 100,000 people.

But when you look at the death rate for cancer—oral cancer drops out of the top ten and lung cancer takes the lead (62 per 100,000 cases). According to the American Cancer Society, it is estimated that there will be 7,890 oral cancer deaths. To put that in perspective: 88,243 men died of lung cancer in 2007.

The other reason men are making a mountain out of a molehill. There’s a vaccine for the worst cancer-causing strain, HPV16, which younger adults and teens are encouraged to get before they are exposed. It’s preventable. And studies are already showing that the vaccine is working and bringing the rates down. But the idea that it’s a problem that starts and stops with women is reflected in who is getting vaccinated, too: more girls (53 percent) than boys (eight percent), even though they are both at risk.

How bad is this “epidemic” of pussy-eating cancer? According to the Center For Disease Control, HPV may contribute to a whopping “6,700 oropharyngeal cancers in men.” There’s a special asterisk, noting: “Other factors, notably tobacco and alcohol use, may also play a role with HPV to cause these cancers.” In other words, Michael Douglas, who is a lifelong smoker and drinker, may have had HPV present and it may have contributed to his oral cancer, and it may have been helped along by all those years of smoking, too. May.

And, in fact, while the HPV-related oral cancer is trending upward, oral cancer deaths are actually trending downward. According to the American Cancer Society, the overall death rate for oral cancers have been decreasing over the last 30 years.

Note that there is no special asterisk next to cervical cancer, though. In order for there to be cervical cancer, HPV is almost definitely present. Yet, you don’t see female comics talking about how having sex with penises gave them cancer.

The bigger problem with Douglas’s pronouncement being taken out of context is that it opens the door for more slut-shaming. Women and their weird moist body parts are dirty, diseased and belong to sluts, clearly. Actually, everyone has had one of the 40-plus strains of HPV at some point. According to the Center For Disease Control, “Approximately 79 million Americans are currently infected with HPV. About 14 million people become newly infected each year. HPV is so common that nearly all sexually-active men and women will get at least one type of HPV at some point in their lives.”

Some studies say that as many as 75 percent of people will have HPV at one point in their life. The prevalence of HPV is one of the reasons doctors shrug: “Saying you have HPV is like saying you have bacteria.” People have it and they don’t even know it. They can have it and clear it, and never know it was even “active.” It can lay dormant, literally, for decades, and turn up like an unwanted visitor.

And, people seem to forget, this goes for both men and women. In fact, men, for whom there is no HPV test at all, are the ones giving all these straight women HPV in the first place.

Yet, the jokes about how a good penis pounding can be cancer-causing keep on coming.

And that’s the problem, no one is joking about disease-ridden penises which are going around unknowingly infecting all the women its slutty owner sleeps with.

Feminist actress Martha Plimpton said it best on Twitter:

                  

Tags: Celebrity   Sex   Health