Sex as an act does not cause cancers but the viruses and infections transmitted from an infected partner during unprotected sexual activity can lead to cancer. As individuals, we are aware of sexual transmitted diseases transmitted during sexual intercourse but little or no awareness has been done to enlighten the population on certain cancers that can occur as a result of sexual activities. In this article, we will discuss on 5 sexual acts that may cause cancer.
1. Oral sex
Oral sex is the act of stimulating the genitals of one’s partner during sexual activity with the use of the mouth including the tongue and lips. This act can be enjoyed by most partners and it is termed as ‘fellatio’ when it is performed on the male by the female partner and ‘cunnilingus’ when performed by the male on the female partner. Oral sex also includes the use of the mouth to stimulate the anal region.
It is now widely acceptable as a form of sexual pleasure by most people and it is no longer seen as a taboo. As harmless as it may look, oral sex can pose great health risk to both sexual partners. The risk of STI is, however, lower when compared to other forms of sexual activity. During oral sex, the risk of transmission of Human papilloma virus (HPV) increases and this can lead to cancer of the mouth and the throat.
HPV transmitted during oral sex gets into the cells of the mouth and throat leading to the mutation in the genes of the cells hence causing cancer of the mouth and the throat. The risk of developing throat cancer is higher in patients with HIV co-infection.
2. Unprotected vaginal sexual intercourse
Much awareness via the media has been done to enlighten the public on the risk of contracting HIV by having unprotected sexual intercourse with a casual partner. However, little has been done to enlighten the public on cancers that can occur as a result of unprotected sexual intercourse. During unprotected sexual intercourse, there is contact with body fluids (semen, saliva, vaginal secretions) which acts as media for transmission of viruses e.g. HIV, HCV, HBV and HPV (present in the cells of the skin around the genital regions). This can lead to cervical cancer from HPV; HIV can lead to Kaposi’s sarcoma and liver cancer from HBV and HCV.
3. Anal sex
Engaging in unprotected anal sex increases the risk of HIV and HPV transmission with anal sex leading to cancers. This is because of the higher risk of bruises of the delicate anal mucosa. Several studies carried out in homosexual men revealed that they have a higher chance of HIV, HPV, HBV and HCV transmission than in heterosexual couples and this can lead to anal warts, cancers of the anal region, colorectal cancer and even liver cancer from the transmission of HBV and HCV.
In fingering, the hands of the male partner are used to stimulate the vagina and the genital regions of the female partner. This is a very common sexual practice that is termed to be harmless. Although the risk of transmission of HIV and other STIs is very low with fingering, it still poses some health risk. Sores or slight bruises of the fingers can act as an entry point for viruses to gain access into the body and establish an infection. Cancers of the skin of the hands and fingers have been reported in men who frequently engage in fingering with partners infected with HPV. The virus gain access into the cells of the skin of the fingers via the cut. It then enters into the cells and alters the genetic makeup of the cells causing an uncontrolled growth of the cancerous cells.
This is the most common form of sexual activity and it is usually the first act that develops into sexual intercourse. During passionate kissing, there is exchange of saliva which is termed to be a body fluid and it may act as a medium for the exchange of viruses like Epstein Barr Virus (EBV) which cause infectious mononucleosis commonly referred to as “the kissing disease”. EBV has been implicated a risk factor for Hodgkin’s lymphoma (cancer of the lymph nodes) and nasopharyngeal cancer. Also, HPV can be transmitted via the mouth of an infected person during kissing to a susceptible partner.