Michael Douglas' Cunnilingus Remark

Michael Douglas' Cunnilingus Remark

Updated Feb 12, 2014 at 11:07PM EST by Brad.

Added Jun 03, 2013 at 02:16PM EDT by Brad.

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Background

On June 3rd, 2013, The Guardian[1] published an exclusive interview article with Academy Award winning actor Michael Douglas, who revealed quite a few details about his marriage to actress Catherine Zeta-Jones, his role in the 2013 American drama film Behind the Candelabra and the ongoing battle with throat cancer. When asked if he believed his heavy drinking and smoking habits had something to do with it, Douglas responded by identifying cunnilingus as the possible cause of contracting the sexually transmitted carcinogen HPV [human papillomavirus].

“No,” he says. “No. Because, without wanting to get too specific, this particular cancer is caused by HPV [human papillomavirus], which actually comes about from cunnilingus.”

Notable Developments

News Media Coverage

Immediately after The Guardian’s publication of the interview, several celebrity gossip news sites and blogs including BuzzFeed[3], TMZ[4], Salon[6], The Atlantic[7], Huffington Post[8] and Jezebel[10] picked up on Douglas’ assertion with attention-grabbing headlines like “Michael Douglas: Oral Sex Gave Me Cancer” and “Michael Douglas: Oral Sex Can Cause Cancer” among other variations.

On Twitter

Many influential Twitter users in the entertainment business promptly reacted to the headlines with punchlines and commentaries on cunnilingus and HPV, including the creator of HBO series Girls Lena Dunham as well as comedians Julie Klausner and Michael Ian Black.






Inevitably, mentions of both terms on Twitter surged in the following 24 hours, both of which became trending topics on the microblogging site. Between June 1st and June 3rd, mentions of “cunnilingus” shot up from a few hundreds per day to more than 10,000, according to the Twitter analytics service Topsy.[13]



Publicist’s Response

Within hours of the story going viral, the actor’s publicist Allen Burry addressed the story by telling the Hollywood news site TheWrap[16] that Douglas never said cunnilingus is what directly caused his illness, but rather brought it up as a possible cause of oral cancer in general. Despite asserting that his statement was misinterpreted, Burry added that he was not seeking a formal correction from The Guardian or other news outlets that ran stories about his client.

Medical Opinions

Meanwhile, several mainstream news outlets and medical reference sites like CNN[15] and WebMD[16] followed up with articles examining the scientific basis of Douglas’ claim and providing background information on the current state of HPV virus. While most news publications cautiously acknowledged that a growing majority of oral cancer cases are caused by HPV, which has recently replaced tobacco as the leading cause of throat cancer, medical experts like Kent Sepkowitz[5] conveyed skepticism as to a direct link between the act of cunnilingus with contracting HPV infection.

“The story, like so much that touches the silver screen, is just close enough to a truth to grab a headline and just far enough away to drive experts insane.”

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