In a world where one day coffee is said to cause cancer and the next to protect against it, sex is normally considered one of the few pleasurable acts we have left where we know where we stand. It might give you herpes, sure, but cancer, not so much.
Surprise! We were wrong about everything and sex will totally give you cancer, and in many different interesting and innovative ways! Here all the sex-related things that science says could indeed possibly be carcinogenic.
The Slippery Slope of Lube
The majority of personal lubricants sold in drug stores contain controversial toxins in the form of parabens. While parabens are known hormone disruptors — they mimic natural estrogens — the jury is still out on whether these toxins really cause cancer: Some research indicates that high levels of parabens can lead to cells mutating into cancer, but currently, the U.S. and Canada consider parabens safe. It’s certainly true that the levels found in these products are very low — much lower than the highest allowable levels — so, y’know, keep on pegging.
In 2005, the Danish Environmental Protection Agency tested 16 popular sex toys to see what they were made of, and to identify those chemicals’ effects on the human body. Among the cheap materials — mainly plasticizers and solvents — that are widely used to produce sex toys, there are some, such as Dimethylformamide and Toluene, that have been linked to testicular cancer when the materials are absorbed by the skin or through an open cut. Furthermore, Phthalates, a group of chemicals used to make plastics softer and more flexible, are “reasonably anticipated to be a human carcinogen,” according to the researchers. So choose your bedroom weapons wisely.
Cancer: Now in (Ball) Powder Form
For a lot of guys, ball powder is the single most tried-and-true anti-chafing remedy Big Pharma has to offer. But as we explained back in May, “a few major studies have found a link between these kinds of talc and ovarian and lung cancer , though none of them have proven direct causation.” In fact, The American Cancer Society states on its website: “Studies of personal use of talcum powder have had mixed results, although there is some suggestion of a possible increase in ovarian cancer risk.” What makes talc (possibly) toxic? Apparently, some talc contains asbestos — a substance known to cause lung cancer when inhaled. But considering most anti-chafe powders these days use a safer cornstarch-based alternative, there probably isn’t too much to worry about if you want to fluff your balls every now and again.
Your Own Semen Wants to Kill You — and Your Partner
A few weeks ago, we wrote about how there are 27 viruses that could be in your semen, some of which can be sexually transmitted and carcinogenic. But more worrisome is a 2006 study, in which researchers from the Medical Research Council’s Human Reproductive Sciences Unit at the University of Edinburgh discovered that the high concentration of prostaglandin — a hormone of sorts — in semen makes diseases of the female reproductive organs worse (including cervical and uterine cancer).
While prostaglandin is naturally produced by the cells that line the female reproductive organs, the concentration of prostaglandin in seminal fluid is 1,000 times higher than that normally found in those cells. “Sexually active women who are at risk of cervical or uterine cancer should encourage their partners to wear a condom to prevent increased exposure to the prostaglandins that might make their condition worse,” lead researcher Henry Jabbour wrote in 2006.
The Michael Douglas Special
In 2013 interview, Michael Douglas told The Guardian that his throat cancer was caused by performing oral sex. Asked whether he now regretted his years of smoking and drinking, usually thought to be the cause of the disease, Douglas replied: “No. Because without wanting to get too specific, this particular cancer is caused by HPV [human papillomavirus], which actually comes about from cunnilingus.”
Though Douglas would later say that he misspoke, Dr. Eric Genden, professor and chair of otolaryngology at Icahn School of Medicine at Mt. Sinai Hospital in New York City, told CBSNews.com in 2013, “There’s an epidemic of HPV-related throat cancers.”
The good news: HPV-related tumors prognostically are far better than those related to smoking and alcohol. So if you’re going to quit two of the three, maybe keep the one that makes your girlfriend happy.