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June 6, 2013 12:18 PM   Subscribe

Has Michael Douglas struck a blow for oral sex?
posted by Artw (144 comments total) 5 users marked this as a favorite

 
It's my understanding that he was just talking about HPV in general, and not meaning anything special by it.

Tabloids purposely misconstrue things.
posted by Malice at 12:20 PM on June 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


I thought you weren't supposed to blow.
posted by dhartung at 12:20 PM on June 6, 2013 [2 favorites]


I thought this was a good debunking/critique of the whole "EATING PUSSY CAUSES CANCER" meme.
posted by latkes at 12:20 PM on June 6, 2013


If a 68-year-old man is chatting idly about his oral prowess during a press interview, you can bet that the teenagers behind the bike sheds are doing it.

Are "bike sheds" a common thing in Britain?
posted by Greg Nog at 12:22 PM on June 6, 2013 [8 favorites]


And speaking of songs about cunnilingus, this is my favorite.
posted by latkes at 12:23 PM on June 6, 2013 [2 favorites]


It is my understanding that the UK has kids hiding everywhere…behind the sofa, behind the bike shed, you name it.
posted by mokin at 12:24 PM on June 6, 2013 [13 favorites]


I was thinking that the blow he struck was more for thinking before you spoke to that guy with the camera and the microphone. But he's won a few Oscars, I guess he can do whatever he wants.
posted by philip-random at 12:25 PM on June 6, 2013


Yay! Another thread where we get to link to songs we like!
posted by The World Famous at 12:27 PM on June 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


I see what you did there. Niceeeee.
posted by hellslinger at 12:31 PM on June 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


Are you ladies out here talking about Colonel Angus?
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 12:31 PM on June 6, 2013 [13 favorites]


I thought this was a good debunking/critique of the whole "EATING PUSSY CAUSES CANCER" meme.

Which seems to be "no, it's HPV!" and now I am wondering what about oral sex could cause it that isn't HPV.
posted by Artw at 12:31 PM on June 6, 2013


TWF: o_o

but hey, as long as we're posting songs about the subject...

Danny Brown - I Will
lyrics here.
posted by raihan_ at 12:31 PM on June 6, 2013 [3 favorites]


My mother passed away from a cancer caused by HPV. It's sad that these days this is something no one ever need to die from again, yet there's so much misinformation out there. Many people with HPV, especially males, are never symptomatic. There's also no good test for men.

If I had a preteen I know I'd make sure she was vaccinated. (There's still some questions as to the efficacy for vaccinating males, but I would lean toward doing it.)

HPV also can cause painful and disgusting warts and infertility.

I'm glad Douglas said what he did.

The fact that last night's "Inside Edition" was all "This is a betrayal of his wife and a humiliation for her and she should be looking for a divorce lawyer!" just goes to show this conversation needs to be had.

CDC info.
posted by cjorgensen at 12:34 PM on June 6, 2013 [11 favorites]


Someone's afraid of being typecast.
posted by R. Schlock at 12:34 PM on June 6, 2013


The film star may have retracted his remarks about cunnilingus but he has raised awareness about this natural part of sex

By... perpetuating the age-old, unbelievably harmful and bullshit idea that women's vaginas are dirty or dangerous? He's an ass.
posted by zarq at 12:34 PM on June 6, 2013 [16 favorites]


Which seems to be "no, it's HPV!" and now I am wondering what about oral sex could cause it that isn't HPV.

Is there an expert from the Cootie Institute available?
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 12:35 PM on June 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


And speaking of songs about cunnilingus...
The Yeastie Girls are a little less subtle and very much NSFW.
posted by Avelwood at 12:36 PM on June 6, 2013 [6 favorites]


I had completely forgotten about oral sex!

Thanks Michael Douglas!
posted by srboisvert at 12:36 PM on June 6, 2013 [47 favorites]


zarq, that seems like a supremely uncharitable interpretation.
posted by zippy at 12:37 PM on June 6, 2013 [5 favorites]


It's my understanding that he was just talking about HPV in general, and not meaning anything special by it.

Tabloids purposely misconstrue things.
posted by Malice


The Guardian is not what I would call a tabloid. And MD's rep tried to say different too but transcript and audio have been published.

http://www.guardian.co.uk/film/audio/2013/jun/03/michael-douglas-cancer-cunnilingus-transcript
posted by episodic at 12:37 PM on June 6, 2013 [2 favorites]


i hear touching your no-no zone makes hair grow between your toes and kitties cry
posted by ishrinkmajeans at 12:38 PM on June 6, 2013


Songs about this particular act: "Walk This Way" (Run DMC/Aerosmith).
posted by colie at 12:39 PM on June 6, 2013


"Don't pass out going down on me, or I'll wake you up with a mouth full of pee"
— Kirk Douglas in Spartacus: Too Drvnk to Fvck
posted by Senor Cardgage at 12:39 PM on June 6, 2013 [3 favorites]


And she said, "Do you come from a land down under?
Where women glow and men plunder?
Can't you hear, can't you hear the thunder?
You better run, you better take cover"
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 12:39 PM on June 6, 2013 [2 favorites]


If this means "Gardasil for everyone" I'd be pretty in favor of that. And guys are the reservoir for HPV, so it makes sense to give them the jab. But is there actual evidence that cunnilingus or fellatio is a risk factor for oral cancer? And how much if so?
posted by en forme de poire at 12:41 PM on June 6, 2013 [2 favorites]


zippy: "zarq, that seems like a supremely uncharitable interpretation."

Disagree. The man smoked like a chimney for years. Which was a hell of a lot more likely to directly cause his cancer. Yet he said in the interview that his cancer was caused by HPV, and then denied he had said it. He has the ability to be a role model for children and teens on the very real dangers of smoking. Instead, he passed the buck and blamed oral sex.
posted by zarq at 12:41 PM on June 6, 2013 [13 favorites]


Which seems to be "no, it's HPV!" and now I am wondering what about oral sex could cause it that isn't HPV.

She's pointing out that we don't say that the act of sexual intercourse causes gonorrhea, we note that there is a virus transmitted through sexual intercourse, and the discussion of oral sex is being treated differently.

Plus his claim is not necessarily true, as pointed out in the FPP. He's a drinker and a smoker. Having multiple risk factors (smoker, drinker, presence of HPV virus in the mouth and throat) would obviously make cancer more likely.
posted by latkes at 12:42 PM on June 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


Gardasil is not a miracle drug.
posted by latkes at 12:44 PM on June 6, 2013


By... perpetuating the age-old, unbelievably harmful and bullshit idea that women's vaginas are dirty or dangerous? He's an ass.
"I did worry if the stress caused by my son's incarceration didn't help trigger it. But yeah, it's a sexually transmitted disease that causes cancer. And if you have it, cunnilingus is also the best cure for it." via
So I don't think you can say he thinks "women's vaginas are dirty or dangerous."

The cancers caused by HPV can be genetically typed, so they can actually tell they are caused by HPV and not smoking.
posted by cjorgensen at 12:44 PM on June 6, 2013 [10 favorites]


He has the ability to be a role model for children and teens on the very real dangers of smoking.

There are few people who America's children and teens look up to more than Michael Douglas.
posted by mr_roboto at 12:46 PM on June 6, 2013 [34 favorites]


"Caused by" is rarely a clear thing with cancer (or most disease for that matter). Even cervical cancer, which in something like 99% of cases stems from HPV, clearly involves some as-yet unidentified co-factor(s). Most experts believe that upward of 75% of people will contract HPV. Yet most women do not get cervical cancer.
posted by latkes at 12:47 PM on June 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


zarq, that seems like a supremely uncharitable interpretation.

Disagree. This seems like a perfectly rational interpretation, based on interweb chatter over the last few days, including speculations that his wife then "gave" it to him, and that this would ruin her professional reputation.
posted by jokeefe at 12:48 PM on June 6, 2013 [3 favorites]


"Caused by" is rarely a clear thing with cancer

Yes this is where it's going with Douglas, and why he said a silly thing.

He's 68 anyway and had a life of hard living. He hasn't exactly been dealt a bad hand.
posted by colie at 12:49 PM on June 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


The concept that cancer is acceptable but HPV is somehow a dirty thing... shows that we're still in a very weird place with sexual hangups.
posted by Blue_Villain at 12:51 PM on June 6, 2013 [9 favorites]


cjorgensen: " The cancers caused by HPV can be genetically typed, so they can actually tell they are caused by HPV and not smoking."

Yes, but smoking is a clear risk factor for HPV-related cancers. "The most recent meta-analysis showed that risk of squamous cell cervical cancer is increased by 50% in current smokers. A study published in December 2011 estimated that around 7% of cervical cancer cases in 2010 (around 200 cases) were linked to smoking.

HPV affects epithelial cells. So does smoking. Which is a factor in oropharyngeal cancer.
posted by zarq at 12:52 PM on June 6, 2013 [4 favorites]


Girl in the Pink Canoe

Down on Haley
posted by 256 at 12:53 PM on June 6, 2013


This seems like a perfectly rational interpretation, based on interweb chatter over the last few days, including speculations that his wife then "gave" it to him, and that this would ruin her professional reputation.

I think interpreting someone's statement through the lens of internet chatter is not a charitable way of dealing with what they've said. If I were to, say, use Youtube comments as the basis for deciding whether what someone said was good or bad, everything ever would be terrible (aside from cat and parkour videos).

Douglas didn't say women's vaginas were dirty. He did say that he felt he caught something from oral sex. People do catch things from oral sex. And also from kissing. And also from riding subways. How is saying a virus from source X "perpetuat[es] the age-old, unbelievably harmful and bullshit idea that X [is] dirty or dangerous."

People do get viruses from sex, oral or otherwise. That's not a value judgement on vaginas and penises. It just is. Interpreting it otherwise then seems uncharitable, because it puts words into the speakers mouth (here, 'internet chatter,' the lowest kind) to say what they really meant.

I think that's unkind.
posted by zippy at 12:56 PM on June 6, 2013 [8 favorites]


It's not just about oral sex with women. I've heard that giving blowjobs are linked to increases in throat cancers as well.
posted by discopolo at 12:56 PM on June 6, 2013


Ugh, it's so fucking disingenuous of every media outlet covering this to fail to mention that HPV causes oral cancers when vaginas aren't even in the room. HPV can lead to cancer. The end. It doesn't matter where the HPV ends up or where it started out.
posted by elizardbits at 12:59 PM on June 6, 2013 [12 favorites]


Though maybe this will spur men to be responsible sex partners get the HPV vaccine before becoming sexually active so they don't continue to transmit it to and among women.
posted by discopolo at 12:59 PM on June 6, 2013


He did say that he felt he caught something from oral sex.
And people used to say they caught GRID from toilet seats and holding hands. Until he's got some sort of proof that's exactly how and when it happened it was a shitty thing to say.

Just because it -could- be transmitted this way doesn't mean it was. And just because he's old and/or famous does not give him a pass for passing this off as truth when he doesn't know.
posted by Blue_Villain at 1:00 PM on June 6, 2013 [2 favorites]


The cancers caused by HPV can be genetically typed, so they can actually tell they are caused by HPV and not smoking."

Yes, but smoking is a clear risk factor for HPV-related cancers


zarq, Michael Douglas could be totally wrong here, but I don't actually think you know more about his cancer that he does. Maybe he meant to "perpetuate" the idea that everyone should get the HPV vaccine, because HPV causes cancer.

Blue_Villain: Until he's got some sort of proof that's exactly how and when it happened

You and Michael Douglas must be very good friends, seeing how he let you in on his doctor visits.
posted by spaltavian at 1:02 PM on June 6, 2013 [3 favorites]


I don't understand the problem here. This strikes me as a great opportunity to raise awareness that HPV can be a problem for both men and women, and that oral sex is safer than other kinds of sex but isn't absolutely safe.
posted by Justinian at 1:02 PM on June 6, 2013 [5 favorites]


Forget that you have a man that's nearly 70. Forget that most people say a lot of stupid shit. Douglas is not a doctor.

He's restating what was explained to him by one. I often can't track what these people say, and I grew up surrounded by them. He had cancer. He had HPV. He probably just put the two and two together and came up with five. Not the most egregious offense in my mind.

And no, I am not a cancer expert.
posted by cjorgensen at 1:03 PM on June 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


And people used to say they caught GRID from toilet seats and holding hands. Until he's got some sort of proof that's exactly how and when it happened it was a shitty thing to say.

Again, I'd say that's uncharitable. Here's what the CDC says about HPV transmission:

"HPV is passed on through genital contact, most often during vaginal and anal sex. HPV may also be passed on during oral sex and genital-to-genital contact."

This is a far cry from "I got it from a toilet seat." Which Douglas isn't saying.
posted by zippy at 1:05 PM on June 6, 2013 [3 favorites]


And, in fact, the doctors I've seen commenting on the issue on CNN and the like have been glad he is raising awareness of the issue.
posted by Justinian at 1:06 PM on June 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


I wouldn't worry too much about Michael Douglas spreading misconceptions among young people. Doubtful few of them know who he is.
posted by Apropos of Something at 1:08 PM on June 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


cjorgensen: “It's sad that these days this is something no one ever need to die from again, yet there's so much misinformation out there.”

This is not strictly true. I mean, yes, there is a lot of misinformation and weird paranoia about Gardasil, which ought to be a standard vaccine which everybody gets. But there are a few of the more dangerous strains of HPV that aren't covered by Gardasil. That is worth remembering.

zippy: “I think interpreting someone's statement through the lens of internet chatter is not a charitable way of dealing with what they've said.”

Well, based on nothing but his statement, it was a crappy thing for Michael Douglas to say. Everything else aside, people need to keep in mind that, when they announce publicly that they have a sexually transmitted disease, they're putting the curse of "do they have it too?" on all their past partners.

And beyond the crappiness of saying openly that you (and therefore potentially your past partners) have an STD, we can at least surmise that Michael Douglas has a doctor that isn't an idiot. If Michael Douglas has a doctor that isn't an idiot, then that doctor would have explained to him that this cancer was likely caused and aggravated by a large number of things, chief among them smoking. So flatly blaming cunnilingus, in the name of making some dramatic "oh, I love vaginas even though they will kill you" comment, is disingenuous and in fact a bit silly and irresponsible.

discopolo: “It's not just about oral sex with women. I've heard that giving blowjobs are linked to increases in throat cancers too. Don't give without getting, ladies.”

Men are at about twice the risk of getting HPV-derived throat cancer as women.

spaltavian: “zarq, Michael Douglas could be totally wrong here, but I don't actually think you know more about his cancer that he does. Maybe he meant to 'perpetuate' the idea that everyone should get the HPV vaccine, because HPV causes cancer.”

HPV doesn't "cause cancer." HPV puts you at risk of cancer. Cancers rarely have simple causes anyhow. And your pretense – that Michael Douglas' doctor is a wizard who, unlike all other doctors on the planet, can magically divine the specific cause of his cancer – seems unlikely.
posted by koeselitz at 1:08 PM on June 6, 2013


And people used to say they caught GRID from toilet seats and holding hands.

I'll admit it! I get GERD from putting stuff in my mouth! Oh, wait, you said GRID, whoa, sorry, wrong disorder!
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 1:08 PM on June 6, 2013


I mean... Doctors also have weird biases and hobbyhorses and do not always understand statistics. I'd be curious whether a second opinion would come to the same conclusion about the origin of this cancer.
posted by en forme de poire at 1:08 PM on June 6, 2013


More cunning R&B from Aaliyah.
posted by klangklangston at 1:08 PM on June 6, 2013 [2 favorites]


There's a job opening, as the PR guy on Catherine Zeta-Jones' next movie just killed himself. Really wasn't looking forward to handling that set of questions in the next press day.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 1:08 PM on June 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


But is there actual evidence that cunnilingus or fellatio is a risk factor for oral cancer? And how much if so?

"... performing cunnilingus (oral sex on a woman) is more risky that performing fellatio (oral sex on a man). This seems counterintuitive, but the concentration of HPV in the thinner moist skin of the vulva is mugh higher than the amounts of virus shed from the thicker dry skin of the penis, and this affects how easy it is to pass the virus on. Other research indicates that HPV can be present in semen and passed on at ejaculation."

So says the UK National Health Service's very informative webpage on oral sex.
posted by Mister Bijou at 1:09 PM on June 6, 2013 [3 favorites]


HPV doesn't "cause cancer." HPV puts you at risk of cancer.

Somehow I don't think you'd be making this distinction about smoking, though.
posted by Justinian at 1:10 PM on June 6, 2013 [3 favorites]


Cunnilingus IS dangerous. It's like being in the Mafia, one slip of the tongue and you're in deep shit.
posted by jonmc at 1:12 PM on June 6, 2013 [9 favorites]


zippy: “This is a far cry from 'I got it from a toilet seat.' Which Douglas isn't saying.”

Aside from the problems presented by saying it publicly, there's no problem with saying "I got HPV in my throat from cunnilingus." It's not certain, and honestly it seems impossible to be sure that's where one got it, but at least it's likely.

The problem is when you say "I got cancer from the HPV in my throat." Because that is not how cancer works. HPV puts you at higher risk of developing cancer, but the vast majority of people with HPV anywhere never get cancer. And moreover there are a host of factors that seem to play a part – exposure to other carcinogens (smoking), diet, general health, physical activity, etc. It's extraordinarily difficult to draw direct causal links with cancer. So saying "HPV causes cancer" is a gross simplification.

Justinian: “HPV doesn't ‘cause cancer.’ HPV puts you at risk of cancer.”

Justinian: “Somehow I don't think you'd be making this distinction about smoking, though.”

Yes, I would. But it should be pointed out that there are at least two differences; first, smoking isn't linked to an expression of love that's too often shamed and denigrated and ought to be normalized; and second, smoking is much more dangerous than HPV.
posted by koeselitz at 1:16 PM on June 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


koeselitz spaltavian: “zarq, Michael Douglas could be totally wrong here, but I don't actually think you know more about his cancer that he does. Maybe he meant to 'perpetuate' the idea that everyone should get the HPV vaccine, because HPV causes cancer.”

HPV doesn't "cause cancer." HPV puts you at risk of cancer.


This kind of ridiculous hair-splitting is an admission that you don't have a point.
posted by spaltavian at 1:16 PM on June 6, 2013


I think that we can all agree that smoking during cunnilingus is a bad idea, though, right?
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 1:21 PM on June 6, 2013 [17 favorites]


koeselitz And your pretense – that Michael Douglas' doctor is a wizard who, unlike all other doctors on the planet, can magically divine the specific cause of his cancer – seems unlikely.

My "pretense" is that the bluster coming from and others isn't very informative. Worse, you're seemingly aware of how much ill intent you are hanging on Douglas for nothing more than an overly-simplified diagnosis.
posted by spaltavian at 1:21 PM on June 6, 2013


I think that we can all agree that smoking during cunnilingus is a bad idea, though, right?

Guess my answer to that depends on which one is doing the smoking.
posted by JimInLoganSquare at 1:22 PM on June 6, 2013 [2 favorites]


spaltavian: “This kind of ridiculous hair-splitting is an admission that you don't have a point.”

Look, friend, I clearly have a point, and I will spell it out for you if you demand it, even though it seems pretty obvious to me.

There are millions and millions of people with HPV in the world today. Every single one of them who actually knows they have it worries about it, like people with any disease worry. They freak out and wonder if they're going to get cancer tomorrow. They think the world is going to end, because they've suddenly discovered they have an STD, and having an STD is supposed to mean that you're a horrible, dirty, filthy person and cancer is inevitable. That really, really sucks. I've had friends who were totally torn up by this. It's not a fun thing, not a nice thing. The societal norms we have surrounding this are really, really fucked up.

So when an actor blithely says "cunnilingus causes cancer," the inevitability implied in that causal statement is likely to fuck up a lot of lives. A kid hears that, they think "fuck it, I'm done. I'm going to get cancer and die, and all because I am a gross idiot who had too much filthy sex."

But that is not how cancer works. And it's absolutely not how HPV works. HPV often clears; we don't know exactly why or how, but generally it seems to help if you eat healthy, avoid carcinogens, stay active, and keep your immune system in top form. People with HPV have hope. And that may seem totally trivial and inconsequential to you, but it's a big deal affecting millions of people.

So, yeah. When an actor says "cunnilingus causes cancer," I'm going to have a big problem with that. Yes, I'm going to underline the specific point that HPV doesn't automatically mean cancer, and that there are ways to stay healthy and increase your chances by taking care of yourself. Because it's important.
posted by koeselitz at 1:23 PM on June 6, 2013 [4 favorites]


I think we may be losing sight of the true crazy part of the quote, which is that Michael Douglas seems to think cunnilingus can cure HPV / cancer. Given that, it's not surprising that he lacks a certain degree of social awareness about the implications of the first part.
posted by Apropos of Something at 1:23 PM on June 6, 2013 [3 favorites]


Somehow I don't think you'd be making this distinction about smoking, though.

Up to half of smokers die of smoking related causes. Risk for HPV related throat cancer, although rising, is still low.
posted by latkes at 1:24 PM on June 6, 2013 [2 favorites]


Are "bike sheds" a common thing in Britain?

Yes. Secondary education runs from age 11 to 16 in the UK; teenagers can't drive to school, but many of them do (or at least did back when I was a teenager) bike to school.

So: secondary schools always have an area for the kids to park their bikes; it's always called the bike shed.

"Behind the bike shed" has always been a colloquialism for teenage experimentation, probably because the bike sheds are usually (a) set somewhat away from the main school buildings, and (b) less heavily supervised than the more trafficked areas of the grounds.

(Although that said, the sheds at my school were covered racks in full view of the playground, and nothing much ever happened there except for a little furtive smoking and a little furtive bullying.)

I don't know what the equivalent would be in US high schools -- under the bleachers, maybe?
posted by We had a deal, Kyle at 1:24 PM on June 6, 2013 [7 favorites]


koeselitz People with HPV have hope. And that may seem totally trivial and inconsequential to you,

You're right. I'm history's greatest monster.
posted by spaltavian at 1:25 PM on June 6, 2013 [2 favorites]


spaltavian: "zarq, Michael Douglas could be totally wrong here, but I don't actually think you know more about his cancer that he does.
Xan Brooks: Do you feel, in hindsight, that you overloaded your system? Overloaded your system with drugs, smoking, drink?

Michael Douglas: No. No. Ah, without getting too specific, this particular cancer is caused by something called HPV, which actually comes about from cunnilingus.
He said that smoking, drugs and drinking didn't cause his cancer, but HPV did. Then he later retracted that statement and said that HPV didn't cause his cancer, and he was just speaking about throat cancer in general. It is obvious from the context of the interview that was not the case.

Frankly, it sounds like Michael Douglas doesn't understand what caused his cancer. In which case he really shouldn't be making conflicting statements about it.

Maybe he meant to "perpetuate" the idea that everyone should get the HPV vaccine, because HPV causes cancer."

He did a truly terrible job, then.
posted by zarq at 1:25 PM on June 6, 2013


So: get your kid an HPV shot.

Sociological Images has a good take on it.
posted by emjaybee at 1:26 PM on June 6, 2013 [2 favorites]


spaltavian: “My 'pretense' is that the bluster coming from and others isn't very informative. Worse, you're seemingly aware of how much ill intent you are hanging on Douglas for nothing more than an overly-simplified diagnosis.”

Look, Michael Douglas may be a wonderful man. I doubt it, but whatever. I don't know him, and I don't care. I think he made a mistake here; if nothing else, as I said, it's irresponsible to imply things about past partners by announcing you have an STD.

But that really isn't the point here. The point is the misunderstanding caused, and it's important to clear that up. I get the feeling we're kind of talking past each other; you think we've been unfair to Michael Douglas, but honestly I don't think that matters at all in the slightest. Michael Douglas is one guy. Whatever happens, he'll go on living his life. What's much more important is the many, many people dealing with this who really need to hear that cancer is not a foregone conclusion for those with HPV, much less for those who like cunnilingus.

“You're right. I'm history's greatest monster.”

Sorry, that was going a bit far; it's clear that you're not really talking about HPV here, you're talking about how it's not really fair to judge Michael Douglas on the basis of a snippet of an interview like this. And that's fair enough. We can kind of let go of the whole disagreement if you like. As I said above, I could really care less about Michael Douglas. Making sure people are informed about HPV is more important.
posted by koeselitz at 1:27 PM on June 6, 2013


Some science on HPV-positive oropharyngeal (throat) cancer:

Johns Hopkins: "Most head and neck cancers are caused by tobacco and alcohol use, but researchers believe that up to 80% of oropharyngeal cancers in the U.S. are due to infection with the HPV virus."

WHO International Agency for Research on Cancer: "For human papillomavirus 16, data show a causal role in cancer of the ... oral cavity, and oropharynx"

National Cancer Institute: "Most recently, HPV infections have been found to cause cancer of the oropharynx, which is the middle part of the throat including the soft palate, the base of the tongue, and the tonsils. In the United States, more than half of the cancers diagnosed in the oropharynx are linked to HPV-16"
posted by zippy at 1:28 PM on June 6, 2013 [5 favorites]


Does anyone know more about his crazy idea that oral sex cures throat cancer?!
posted by latkes at 1:28 PM on June 6, 2013


This seems counterintuitive, but the concentration of HPV in the thinner moist skin of the vulva is mugh higher than the amounts of virus shed from the thicker dry skin of the penis, and this affects how easy it is to pass the virus on.

It seems even more counterintuitive when you see data (as in the HPV wiki article) showing that the number of anal cancers attributable to HPV are significantly higher than oral cancers.
posted by elizardbits at 1:29 PM on June 6, 2013


I mean otherwise I am missing out on some really weird sex acts that I am not sure I want to know about.
posted by elizardbits at 1:29 PM on June 6, 2013


Cunnilingus and psychiatry brought us to this
posted by KokuRyu at 1:31 PM on June 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


I bet he uses that excuse for everything!

Responding to criticisms he doesn't know what he's talking about, Michael Douglas responded, "It must be all that oral sex I'm having..."
posted by mazola at 1:33 PM on June 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


I think that we can all agree that smoking during cunnilingus is a bad idea, though, right?

Yes. If there's smoke, you're doing it way too fast.
posted by prize bull octorok at 1:33 PM on June 6, 2013 [6 favorites]


Ohmygodwhyisthisevenaconversation?

If anything, Michael Douglas has to explain his obviously virulent case of diarrhea of the mouth.
posted by Bathtub Bobsled at 1:33 PM on June 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


I think that we can all agree that smoking during cunnilingus is a bad idea, though, right?

If you wanna lay back and have a smoke while someone nibbles your nethers, there's worse ways to spend a Tuesday evening, IMO.
posted by Bathtub Bobsled at 1:35 PM on June 6, 2013 [2 favorites]


There are millions and millions of people with HPV in the world today. Every single one of them who actually knows they have it worries about it, like people with any disease worry. They freak out and wonder if they're going to get cancer tomorrow. They think the world is going to end, because they've suddenly discovered they have an STD, and having an STD is supposed to mean that you're a horrible, dirty, filthy person and cancer is inevitable.

Wow. These generalizations help nobody.
posted by girlmightlive at 1:36 PM on June 6, 2013 [5 favorites]


I think that we can all agree that smoking during cunnilingus is a bad idea, though, right?

I think this is a trick question. Smoking is always a bad idea! I think, though, that we have the germ for at least one fascinating "The More You Know" PSA.
posted by JimInLoganSquare at 1:38 PM on June 6, 2013


girlmightlive: “Wow. These generalizations help nobody.”

Er – yeah, that was my point.
posted by koeselitz at 1:38 PM on June 6, 2013


Breaking news from 2010.
posted by Ideefixe at 1:50 PM on June 6, 2013


Right
posted by thelonius at 1:52 PM on June 6, 2013


smoking isn't linked to an expression of love that's too often shamed and denigrated and ought to be normalized

The solution is not to stick your head in the sand and start denying that oral sex increases your risk of cancer, it is to spread correct information.

Secondly, what is this 1956? The idea that oral sex isn't normalized is crazy. At least among young people. And old people are going to die soon, so their views don't matter so much. Oral sex is practically a handshake at this point.
posted by Justinian at 1:53 PM on June 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


Up to half of smokers die of smoking related causes. Risk for HPV related throat cancer, although rising, is still low.

None of which affects that fact that, by koselitz' standard, smoking does not cause cancer. It only increases your risk. Just like HPV doesn't cause cancer but only increases your risk.

Some of us are pointing out that this is a completely non-standard way of talking about cancer and is, I think, helpful to no one. I'm perfectly fine with saying that exposure to ionizing radiation "causes cancer" even if it is impossible to predict in advance whether someone will get cancer or not through exposure to it. Or smoking. Or HPV. Or any other carcinogen.

Virtually everyone talks about something "causing cancer" when it significantly increases your risk for cancer and pretending otherwise is disingenuous.
posted by Justinian at 1:56 PM on June 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


Insane Clown Posse - Cotton Candy

Warning: Language, General degradation, and everything else you'd expect from an ICP song. Nothing about cancer, though.

Spoiler: One of them hates it, one of them loves it. One of the few issues on which they disagree, I imagine.
posted by Durhey at 1:57 PM on June 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


Justinian: “The solution is not to stick your head in the sand and start denying that oral sex increases your risk of cancer...”

Agreed.
posted by koeselitz at 1:57 PM on June 6, 2013


Justinian: “None of which affects that fact that, by koselitz' standard, smoking does not cause cancer. It only increases your risk. Just like HPV doesn't cause cancer but only increases your risk... Virtually everyone talks about something 'causing cancer' when it significantly increases your risk for cancer and pretending otherwise is disingenuous.”

Look, part of my point here is that "virtually everyone" is wrong about cancer and how cancer works. Somethings increase one's risk for cancer dramatically; some things increase one's risk a small amount. More confusingly and strangely, these things interact with each other.

You may think I'm being needlessly pedantic with my distinction between "x causes y" and "x increases risk of y." Maybe that's not the best way to communicate it, but the point is that cancer isn't like other diseases. When someone ends up with AIDS, we know it's because they contracted HIV, and we can come up with a brief list of ways that might have happened. When someone has a bacterial infection, we can usually at least begin to trace where that started, how it was initiated. But it isn't really that way with cancer. Some people smoke their whole lives and are fine; some die in their 30s of lung disease even though they've never smoked at all. We can calculate risks, but because they're all interrelated, it's very hard to point to a thing and say "well, this was caused by that." At least we can usually identify HPV-initiated cancers, but even there we know that a whole slew of other factors play a big part.

I don't want to deny that HPV is a major factor in throat cancer today. I'm only saying that it's a complex thing, and that people need to keep in mind that there are a lot of other factors, too.
posted by koeselitz at 2:05 PM on June 6, 2013


It's sort of weird to be treating this as a binary "does vs. does not cause/increase risk of cancer." The appropriate questions I think are more - how much does HPV raise the oral cancer risk compared to drinking and smoking, and what is the interaction effect with drinking and smoking (or drinking mate or whatever)?
posted by en forme de poire at 2:08 PM on June 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


Most experts believe that upward of 75% of people will contract HPV. Yet most women do not get cervical cancer.

Yes, mostly because there are over a hundred types of HPV and only a few are linked with cancer.
posted by kersplunk at 2:16 PM on June 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


Should I be worried about second-hand oral sex?
posted by srboisvert at 2:23 PM on June 6, 2013 [7 favorites]


Yes, mostly because there are over a hundred types of HPV and only a few are linked with cancer.

Actually, although that's true, that is not why. Not everyone with strains of HPV most associated with carcinogenicity (?) gets cancer. It's a pretty interesting area and research is still being conducted. No one totally understand this stuff yet.

The more I'm reading today, it does seem clear that you can pretty clearly attribute the rise in certain throat cancers to HPV. Not sure about Michael Douglas in particular since I haven't seen his medical record. Of course smoking and drinking make you more susceptible to most cancers.
posted by latkes at 2:25 PM on June 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


Hey everyone, remember Bootsauce?
posted by pxe2000 at 2:35 PM on June 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


Should I be worried about second-hand oral sex?

Look, if you're making out with random people during orgies ... can I get an invite?
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 2:40 PM on June 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


I am so confused about the source of outrage here? Is it that people shouldn't be free to disclose that they have an STD in public? Are people worried that a link between HPV and throat cancer will reduce some men's willingness to perform oral sex on women?

I didn't see a value judgement, just an acknowledgement of what Mr. Douglas understood to be fact, that his cancer was HPV related and was in a part of the body that gets HPV from oral sex. Nothing about dirty vaginas. Sometimes I think there is more projection going on than most of us would like to admit.
posted by wierdo at 2:50 PM on June 6, 2013 [3 favorites]


"Oral sex is practically a handshake at this point."

That sounds like a rejected Bill Clinton excuse.
posted by klangklangston at 2:53 PM on June 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


Oral sex is practically a handshake at this point.

I remember meeting you once in person. I think I'm a little offended that this simple courtesy was not at least offered.
posted by The World Famous at 2:59 PM on June 6, 2013 [16 favorites]


Oral sex is practically a handshake at this point.

You're doing one wrong.
posted by cjorgensen at 2:59 PM on June 6, 2013 [5 favorites]


I may or may not have been using hyperbole for dramatic effect. Come to the next LA meetup I attend to find out!
posted by Justinian at 3:12 PM on June 6, 2013 [4 favorites]


Oh, I'll be there!
posted by The World Famous at 3:15 PM on June 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


Shake on it.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 3:19 PM on June 6, 2013 [7 favorites]


Justinian: "Oral sex is practically a handshake at this point."

This did not come up at new-hire training. IT DIDN'T.
posted by jquinby at 3:21 PM on June 6, 2013 [4 favorites]


I'm surprised that no one's picked up on Xan Brooks's amazing powers of diagnosis, since in the original article he comments:

The throat cancer, I assume, was first seeded during those wild middle years, when he drank like a fish and smoked like the devil. Looking back, knowing what he knows now, does he feel he overloaded his system?

On first read, it seemed like a moralising, dickish thing to say to a cancer survivor, and I took Douglas's response to mean (paraphrasing):
"Well, if you actually knew what what you were talking about you'd know a lot of throat cancer is caused by HPV. ASSHOLE."
posted by Ripper Minnieton at 3:21 PM on June 6, 2013


I am so confused about the source of outrage here?

Well, I'm not "outraged," so maybe you're not talking to me. But: Michael Douglas did say that he didn't regret his drinking and smoking party years because his throat cancer was caused by HPV. In context I think he just meant it as a "well, what are you going to do, I don't have regrets" throwaway remark, but out of context it sounds like he thinks his smoking didn't have anything to do with his cancer, which is probably actually not true even if he also had HPV (from here: "People who smoke are much less likely to clear the virus from their body.") I think it also led to a lot of people panicking, which isn't really Michael Douglas's fault (and actually I admire his candor here), but it's worth stating that the actual risk of cancer from oral sex does not appear to be very large. He also said oral sex had therapeutic effects for HPV-driven cancers, which, um. No. But I do give him points for candor.
posted by en forme de poire at 3:40 PM on June 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


So I take it we know P(HPV/some cancers of the mouth) is high. But what I want to know is P(some cancers of the mouth/HPV).
posted by professor plum with a rope at 3:40 PM on June 6, 2013


ppwar: it looks like it's very low. To give you a sense: "One 2012 study in the Journal of the American Medical Association estimated 16 million Americans had oral HPV, about 7 percent of the country, when fewer than 15,000 will develop the cancer. The researchers estimated about 10 percent of men had oral HPV, while almost 4 percent of women do."
posted by en forme de poire at 3:42 PM on June 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


You may think I'm being needlessly pedantic with my distinction between "x causes y" and "x increases risk of y." Maybe that's not the best way to communicate it, but the point is that cancer isn't like other diseases.

This is not true. Cancer, while it is easiest to think of using statistical risk, does begin with a mutation in a single cell, and this mutation has a specific cause. It isn't always possible to reconstruct the origin of a line of cancer cells--there's a long road from that initial event to what we think of as cancer--but when it is caused by HPV, it often is. The molecular basis by which HPV causes cancer is very well established, and in most cases, the HPV genome is actually integrated into the genetic material of the cancer cells.
posted by pullayup at 3:47 PM on June 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


pullayup, I get what you're saying, but even that article you linked spends a lot of time talking about environmental factors that modulate HPV's ability to transform cells. See for example p. 453: "The evidence from epidemiological studies is sufficiently strong to conclude that, in the presence of HPV infection, tobacco smoking is a co-factor in the development of pre-neoplastic lesions of the cervix and invasive cervical cancer (see Section 2.7.1). Currently, there appear to be two different mechanisms by which tobacco smoking can increase the risk for cervical diseases. Cigarette smoke contains mutagens, carcinogens and other components that may act as initiators and/or promoters of uterine cervix carcinogenesis. These components can either affect immune function and allow HPV infection to persist and progress or act directly as co-carcinogens in cervical tissue or both."
posted by en forme de poire at 4:02 PM on June 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


I'm just glad my children are grown and I don't have to figure out how to explain to an eight year old what cunnilingus is.
(It's bad enough that I had to tell my mother what a wanker is last year. THAT was fun. Not.)
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 4:06 PM on June 6, 2013


Thanks for some actual science, zippy and pullyaup. (Also, as pointed out above, The Guardian is far from being a tabloid. It's a broadsheet, and a pretty informative one.)

Look, Michael Douglas clearly says something off-the-cuff that his PR people later panicked about. I think it's excellent that some publicity has been brought to the fact that the HPV virus can, indeed, cause throat cancer. And that it can be transferred by cunnilingus. These are facts. (Although Douglas' comment that cunnilingus can also be a cure? I got nothing :/)

I don't understand why people are acting as if all this is some kind of insult against cunnilingus. Or vaginas. Or something.
posted by Salamander at 4:07 PM on June 6, 2013 [2 favorites]


I think that all of this is just a taste of things come...
posted by HarrysDad at 4:24 PM on June 6, 2013


I will both make sure my son gets the HPV vaccine (that is, if it's available and recommended for males in ten years or so) AND refuse to imagine him servicing anyone, ever. WIN.
posted by sonika at 4:35 PM on June 6, 2013


(It's bad enough that I had to tell my mother what a wanker is last year. THAT was fun. Not.)

Well, not the literal meaning. But the figurative meaning, I'm sure she undertands.
posted by jonmc at 4:51 PM on June 6, 2013


Sit on my face and tell me that you love me
posted by islander at 5:23 PM on June 6, 2013 [3 favorites]


Oral sex is practically a handshake at this point.

You're doing one wrong.


Not necessarily.
posted by Serene Empress Dork at 5:31 PM on June 6, 2013


OM NOM NOM
posted by quonsar II: smock fishpants and the temple of foon at 5:34 PM on June 6, 2013


Oh, and this is a lovely song about oral love: My Puss
posted by Serene Empress Dork at 5:36 PM on June 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


Executed poorly, oral sex may also increase the risk of experiencing unintended nasal sex.
posted by horsewithnoname at 5:47 PM on June 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


Before I forget, this seems like the appopriate setting: The verb for "to perform cunnilingus" is "cunnilingue."

You're welcome.
posted by Apropos of Something at 5:51 PM on June 6, 2013 [2 favorites]


I interpreted the "cure" bit as a wry throwaway, roughly meaning that if you've got HPV-related cancer (and feel sad and blue), fortunately cunnilingus is so enjoyable that it takes your mind off your problems.
posted by GrammarMoses at 5:53 PM on June 6, 2013 [4 favorites]


Yeah, it's the same as the Simpsons quote about alcohol being the cause of, and the solution to, all of life's problems.
posted by Justinian at 6:09 PM on June 6, 2013


But what I want to know is P(some cancers of the mouth/HPV).

0.5 to 0.8, from the links I posted above.
posted by zippy at 6:36 PM on June 6, 2013


The verb for "to perform cunnilingus" is "cunnilingue"

You are quite the cunning linguist.
posted by ShutterBun at 6:42 PM on June 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


I realize now I may have misinterpreted P(some cancers of the mouth | HPV). I'm giving "odds of some cancers of the mouth caused by HPV", not "odds you will get some cancer of the mouth given that you have HPV."
posted by zippy at 6:52 PM on June 6, 2013


But what I want to know is P(some cancers of the mouth/HPV).

0.5 to 0.8, from the links I posted above.


On preview, you already realized this, but that's P(HPV|cancer). P(cancer|HPV) appears to be more like 0.001 (i.e. one in a thousand).

Also, it looks like the 85% number for P(HPV|cancer) is really for HPV-16 specifically, which is the most pathogenic strain and is also rarer (1% vs 10% orally), as well as one of the strains specifically targeted by Gardasil. (That paper also mentions the interesting fact that oral prevalence is actually much less than vaginal/anal in the same population, which suggests the mouth is naturally less susceptible to HPV infection.)
posted by en forme de poire at 7:11 PM on June 6, 2013


According to his publicist: Michael Douglas did NOT contract cancer from eating pussy...
posted by littlejohnnyjewel at 7:22 PM on June 6, 2013


perpetuating the age-old, unbelievably harmful and bullshit idea that women's vaginas are dirty or dangerous?

The concept that cancer is acceptable but HPV is somehow a dirty thing... shows that we're still in a very weird place with sexual hangups.


Did anyone other than Metafilter commenters use the word "dirty" in this context?
posted by John Cohen at 7:30 PM on June 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


I don't understand why people are acting as if all this is some kind of insult against cunnilingus. Or vaginas. Or something.

The dude said that he got throat cancer from going down on someone, instead of blaming a far more likely culprit (smoking). He even singled out his ex-wife as the infection vector. If he didn't mean to cast dispersion on at least her, then why did he bother to connect those two particular dots?

Here's what the CDC says about HPV transmission: "HPV is passed on through genital contact, most often during vaginal and anal sex. HPV may also be passed on during oral sex and genital-to-genital contact." This is a far cry from "I got it from a toilet seat." Which Douglas isn't saying.

It kind of is, though. No one is doubting that it is possible to contract things from oral sex; I am only questioning Douglas' certainty that he did contract that particular disease from that particular act, when there is a much more likely cause. Especially since he also singled out that particular person. It just sort of smacks of a weird grudge.

Personally, I'm more confused why people are saying that this incident is something that would promote awareness of cunnilingus. The people who are already inclined to think it's icky would be spooked by this, and the people who wouldn't be spooked by it have probably already figured out it's a fun time all on their own already. So...not sure how Michael Douglas saying something truly dumb would end in some Net Gain For Women's Sexytimes.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:46 PM on June 6, 2013


The dude said that he got throat cancer from going down on someone, instead of blaming a far more likely culprit (smoking). He even singled out his ex-wife as the infection vector. If he didn't mean to cast dispersion on at least her, then why did he bother to connect those two particular dots?

Did you see zippy's quotes? (Sorry, don't know how to link cleanly to them here: scroll up.) Apparently, Douglas' doctor(s) told him that the type of oropharyngeal cancer he had was caused by the HPV virus.

He even singled out his ex-wife as the infection vector. If he didn't mean to cast dispersion on at least her, then why did he bother to connect those two particular dots?

Where did he say that? I read the articles and did not see it.
posted by Salamander at 9:09 PM on June 6, 2013


It kind of is, though. No one is doubting that it is possible to contract things from oral sex; I am only questioning Douglas' certainty that he did contract that particular disease from that particular act, when there is a much more likely cause

No, read the thread. It's quite possible to identify a cancer which came from HPV. You can type the cancer. Douglas may very well know his cancer was caused by HPV with certainty.

Especially since he also singled out that particular person.

Because he hadn't engaged in oral sex with anyone else for a decade? They've been married for, what, 14 years?

He even singled out his ex-wife

It's weird to me that you assume it is his ex wife. Do you have reason to believe they aren't currently happily married? They even renewed their vows after they found out he had cancer. I dunno, I feel like you're bringing something to the table here given they seem happy to me.
posted by Justinian at 9:10 PM on June 6, 2013


TL;DR since others have repeated it: stop saying "ex wife".
posted by Justinian at 9:10 PM on June 6, 2013


Justinian - I assume Empress Callipygos is referring to Diandra Douglas, who is his ex-wife, not Catherine Zeta-Jones (his current wife). Still not seeing it, though.

On the rest of it, I agree with you.
posted by Salamander at 9:17 PM on June 6, 2013


Oh. That would be a stupid thing to say, yes. I cannot find any basis for believing he said it.
posted by Justinian at 9:34 PM on June 6, 2013


As I just told Art, I am not convinced it amounts to striking a blow. Mr. Douglas was more getting his licks in.
posted by mwhybark at 10:24 PM on June 6, 2013


Well, he's gone down, in my estimation.
posted by Abiezer at 10:56 PM on June 6, 2013


HPV can be latent for many, many, many years before causing precancerous cell changes. Good grief, there's no way for him to ascertain from whom specifically he got the HPV which was implicated in his oral cancer.

Well, unless a woman with whom he was, um, orally-sexually-involved coincidentally happened to*, either immediately before or after contact with him, have a routine pap which showed the presence of abnormal cells and got a followup colposcopy/biopsy, which was tested for specific HPV types (not always done), which showed the specific type of HPV indicated by his doctor as having caused his oral cancer.

* cancer-causing types of HPV are asymptomatic
posted by desuetude at 12:53 AM on June 7, 2013


I had a pretty big mis-read of the article; I RTFA, but not TFA which TFA linked to (I saw the quote that his ex-wife made a statement that she didn't have HPV and assumed that he'd accused her and that was why she was commenting; turns out he didn't). My apologies.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 6:21 AM on June 7, 2013


Although, I wonder if including the original article in this FPP - the one in which he made his statements about the cunnilingus/cancer links in the first place - might have forestalled a lot of clashes in this thread.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 6:26 AM on June 7, 2013 [1 favorite]


I can't believe nobody's made a joke about Michael Douglas being a 'douche' yet.
posted by colie at 6:55 AM on June 7, 2013


I'm finding the amount of jokes in this thread bizarre.
posted by agregoli at 7:54 AM on June 7, 2013 [1 favorite]


Too many or too few?
posted by en forme de poire at 12:44 PM on June 7, 2013 [4 favorites]


So, sex carries risks of disease transmission. This isn't news, is it? Michael Douglas said his throat cancer was caused by HPV, and the news assumed this means Michael Douglas is admitting to having oral sex with a woman or women, although it's also transmissible from man to man. The media is in a tizz because Michael Douglas said something that can be related to cunnilingus.

If Michael Douglas likes cunnilingus, and says so publicly, even if indirectly, well, yay. I'm all for people being sex-positive. Not to be all TMI, but I'm personally in favor of promoting cunnilingus.
If Michael Douglas endorses the HPV vaccine, especially for boys and men, even if indirectly, well, yay. HPV causes or influences people getting cancer, and cancer really sucks.

This thread is a weird mix of Beavis & Butthead - style heh, heh, he said pussy, heh, get it and hair-splitting semantics about how people acquire cancer which, and I think I speak for all of us, sucks. sucks heh, get it, heh, heheheheheh
posted by theora55 at 2:08 PM on June 7, 2013 [2 favorites]


Waitaminute... 141 comments and nobody mentions Douglas' Liberace movie? The first thing I thought when I heard this was "after his Famous Closeted Gay role, he's obviously trying to prove HE's not gay... with medical proof of his pussy eating. Isn't that the most assholish thing this side of the NRA?"
posted by oneswellfoop at 9:33 PM on June 8, 2013 [2 favorites]


Way too many.
posted by agregoli at 7:33 AM on June 11, 2013


"Isn't that the most assholish thing this side of the NRA?"

That seems like several leaps.
posted by Artw at 8:40 AM on June 11, 2013


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