White People Have More Oral Sex

This article was originally posted on RealClearScience.

Perhaps thanks to President Bill Clinton, oral sex has been a subject of intense fascination among Americans for the past 15 years. It has long been suspected, and some evidence has suggested, that there was something of an oral sex “epidemic” among younger people a few years ago. Now, a study reported in PLoS ONE helps confirm that the long-standing rumors are probably true.

The data — broken down by age, race and gender — is absolutely fascinating. In every age group, white people were significantly more likely to have had oral sex at some point in their lives than people of any other race. The cohort that has the most oral sex is young-ish (age 30-44), white males. (See figure.)

Another point worth noting is that people aged 30-44 — many of whom came of age during the Clinton Administration — were likelier to have had oral sex than people aged 45-69. So, quite possibly, the “Clinton-Lewinsky effect” is a very real phenomenon. (Hey, if the President is doing it, why can’t we?)

The authors weren’t just interested in oral sex patterns, however. They also wanted to know if differences in oral sex behavior are linked to differences in the prevalence of human papillomavirus 16 (HPV16), which itself has been linked to oral and throat cancer. Their epidemiological analysis concluded that the more oral sex partners you have, the likelier you are to acquire HPV16, regardless of age or race.

Oral sex, despite what so many people seem to think, is not a risk-free behavior. Maybe getting an HPV vaccine, wearing a condom, or (gasp!) practicing self-control aren’t bad ideas, after all.

Source: D’Souza G, Cullen K, Bowie J, Thorpe R, Fakhry C (2014) Differences in Oral Sexual Behaviors by Gender, Age, and Race Explain Observed Differences in Prevalence of Oral Human Papillomavirus Infection. PLoS ONE 9(1): e86023. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0086023