Semiconductor nanowires formed using the vapor-liquid-solid mechanism are routinely grown in many laboratories, but a comprehensive understanding of the key factors affecting wire growth is still lacking. In this paper we show that, under conditions of low disilane pressure and higher temperature, long, untapered Si wires cannot be grown, using Au catalyst, without the presence of oxygen. Exposure to oxygen, even at low levels, reduces the diffusion of Au away from the catalyst droplets. This allows the droplet volumes to remain constant for longer times and therefore permits the growth of untapered wires. This effect is observed for both gas-phase and surface-bound oxygen, so the source of oxygen is unimportant. The control of oxygen exposure during growth provides a new tool for the fabrication of long, uniform-diameter structures, as required for many applications of nanowires.