New Study Challenges Conventional Wisdom On Sex Life Of Teens
The conventional wisdom that teenagers who are not ready for sexual intercourse are experimenting with oral sex on large scale is being challenged by new data on the subject.
According to data released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, two-thirds of teenagers and young adults have had oral sex — about as many as have had vaginal intercourse, a trend that speaks to changing social mores and the need to educate teens about the risk of contracting a sexually transmitted disease from oral sex, experts say.
While slightly under half of 15- to 19-year-olds have had vaginal sex —44 percent of boys, 47 percent of girls — only about 16 percent of girls and 15 percent of boys from that age group engaged in oral sex first, according to the CDC data. An additional 7 percent of girls and 10 percent of boys reported having oral sex but never vaginal sex.
Over all, 49 percent of boys and 48 percent of girls ages 15 to 19 have engaged in oral sex. Among the younger teenagers in the survey, between ages 15 to 17, those numbers drop to 38 percent for boys and 33 percent for girls.
“There’s been a perception for many years that there’s some kind of epidemic of oral sex among teens,” said Leslie Kantor, vice president for education of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, who was not involved in the study. “If nothing else, this data provides a realistic sense of the numbers.”
“What’s important here is that it’s probably equally likely for oral sex to happen before intercourse as after,” Kantor said, “so we need to provide sex education to young people that provides all the information they’ll need, from S.T.D.’s to pregnancy prevention.”
The research shows that one in four teens is now having oral sex before vaginal sex — marking the "hierarchical reordering of oral sex in American culture," says Justin Garcia, an evolutionary biologist withthe Kinsey Institute at Indiana University.
Many sex researchers had believed that oral sex was being used to defer vaginal sex, but that doesn't seem to be the case for most teens today. In fact, the only demographic group that postponed vaginal sex until substantially after oral sex were young white girls of educated mothers — perhaps those whose mothers impressed upon them the need to avoid teenage
pregnancy, researchers say.
Also noteworthy to researchers was the fact that girls and boys gave and received oral sex equally and that sexual activity began at roughly the same age, with 44% of 15- to 17-year-old boys and 39% of girls of that age engaging in some kind of sexual activity with an opposite-sex partner.
"It certainly would suggest that the gender differences found previously no longer exist," explained Terri Fisher, a professor of psychology at Ohio State University.
The new figures suggest that sex education programs need to directly address oral sex as well as vaginal intercourse, along with the risks associated with both.
The growing frequency of oral sex also means parents should address it with their children. But instead of worrying about "the talk," experts like University of Missouri sexuality educator Heather Eastman-Mueller advise parents to consistently talk in age-appropriate ways about sexuality, morality and physical self-esteem.
"It should be a conversation you have all the time," she says.
[image via USA Today]