In honor of Sex Week at Yale, it’s time to tackle an age-old question: What would you rather sacrifice for eternity — oral sex or cheese?
As simple as it sounds, the question isn’t easy. The Sex Week at Yale magazine may have found that only 8 percent of males and 16 percent of females chose to give up cheese when compared to sex and love as a whole. But the question becomes more complicated when we consider oral sex alone. Indeed, oral sex is only one chapter in the world of sexual activities, while cheese is really, really good.
After discussing the question for endless hours during my Yale FOOT trip, I’ve discovered that weighing pleasure against pleasure yields no clear conclusion. So, now that I am more educated in public health, I thought it might be fitting to examine this problem from a different perspective: Which has a greater risk of causing harm by making you sick?
Used sparingly, of course, neither oral sex nor cheese poses serious health risks, but in excess (as overachieving Yalies are sometimes apt to act), there may be cause for concern.
The health effects of cheese are perhaps most obvious to our obese nation today. Not only can the extra calories expand your waistline, but the high levels of saturated fat, in particular, raise the risk of a heart attack or stroke. More immediately, excessive flatulence has been linked to “cutting too much cheese,” and people who are lactose intolerant become physically ill from consumption of dairy products.
Oral sex, however, also has the important health risks of sexually transmitted infections (STIs). While forms of “outercourse” like oral sex do not carry the risk of pregnancy, performers and receivers of oral sex are at a risk for both bacterial STIs, such as gonorrhea and chlamydia, and viral STIs, such as herpes and HIV. A recent study in Chicago showed that 14 percent of newly infected syphilis cases were individuals who engaged in oral sex alone. Unfortunately, spitting or swallowing won’t change your risk, and existing sores through which STIs are transmitted are not always noticeable.
Fortunately, it is possible to avoid these STI risks if you practice safe sex. The flavored condoms outside your dorm room door are a good option for safer fellatio, and they also can help with the dilemma of spitting or swallowing. What about when you want to please that woman in your life? Dental dams, thin latex sheets that are used to cover the vagina, are a good (but not entirely perfect) option. Dental dams come in different flavors, too, and can also be used for safer anilingus, if that’s your thing. Either way, if you are sexually active, you should know your STI status. (Yale University Health Services is having a free screening all day Friday with free sex toy giveaways.)
We might laugh at the question of oral sex versus cheese, but in the end, these issues are relevant here on campus.
As for cheese, we should be careful what we eat in the dining halls. While the Yale Sustainable Food Project’s food might be good for the environment, it is not always good for our health. One serving of YSFP’s “Berkeley Mac & Cheese,” for example, has more than 10 times as much saturated fat as a serving of Kraft’s “The Cheesiest” Macaroni and Cheese. Moreover, it has more than five times more cholesterol and nearly twice as much sodium. Loading up our food with so much cheese is simply not good for our health.
As for oral sex, we need to challenge misconceptions that oral sex is a risk-free form of hooking up. In response to rising concerns about STIs, oral sex has become more popular than vaginal sex for teens, but most young adults aren’t using protection. A 2003 study by Yale researchers found that 10th graders at a local high school were about 33 percent more likely to engage in oral sex than vaginal sex, but when they did perform oral sex, they were half as likely to use protection every time.
We also need to challenge the notion that unprotected sex is cool. Another interesting finding of this Yale study was that although teens who had sex were on average reported to be more socially popular than abstainers, having sex without protection was associated with lower levels of popularity.
Most importantly, however, we need to make safe sex fun and easy for young adults. Yale is a leader among campuses in providing free flavored condoms in every entryway, but why are dental dams not freely available like they are at Harvard? A female friend of mine recently went to DUH for a dental dam, and the nurse on duty didn’t even know what they were. Why can’t women have fun, too?
At the end of the day, public health is not about giving up what you enjoy but instead finding better ways that we can all be safe and still have fun.
Cheese-flavored dental dams, anyone?
Robert Nelb is a senior in Timothy Dwight College. His column runs on alternate Tuesdays.