Teens Say Oral Sex ‘Doesn’t Count’ as More Engage
Failure by teenagers to define oral sex as sexual activity places them at an increased risk for STDs and also leads to incomplete information in studies and surveys, a study due in December by the Alan Guttmacher Institute will reveal, USA Today reports. The study will include information from health care providers who have detected "dramatic increases" in the frequency of oral herpes and gonorrhea of the pharynx diagnosed in teenagers. A recent online sex survey by Twist magazine found that of the 10,000 girls who responded, among whom 5,700 were 14 years old or younger, 80% said they were virgins and 25% of these self-declared virgins had engaged in oral sex. Sara Seims, president of AGI, said that teenagers do not consider anything aside from vaginal intercourse to be sex. A 1996 study by Mark Schuster at the University of California at Los Angeles collected information from 2,026 Los Angeles teens in grades 9 through 12. Although 47% of the students said they were virgins, 35% of those had engaged in some sort of sexual activity, "ranging from masturbation of or by a partner to oral sex and beyond." As such, it is often difficult to identify how many teenagers are sexually active, because major surveys do not include oral sex on the questionnaire, USA Today reports. Teen Perceptions Experts ranging from doctors to psychiatrists believe there are several influences contributing to the rise in oral sex among teenagers, including earlier maturation, specifically in girls, discussion of oral sex in the media, the belief that oral sex represents freedom from the risk of pregnancy and disease, instant gratification without emotional attachment and the President Clinton-Monica Lewinsky scandal. Lynn Ponton, a psychiatrist at the University of California at San Francisco, indicates that children and teens have comprehended the implications of this scandal and its discussion in the media. "Clinton said oral sex isn't sex. Kids tell me over and over in my office, 'The President did it,'" she said. Experts also say that the message of abstinence remains convoluted, with teenagers learning that they should abstain, but without knowing from what, specifically, they should be abstaining. The CDC's John Santelli analyzed several major national surveys on teenage sexuality and found that none of them asks specifically about oral sex. Physician/radio talk show host Dr. Drew Pinsky said that most teenagers see oral sex as merely an extension of "making out," while Marissa Robillard, a 15-year-old from Green Bay, Wis., said "The consensus in my high school is that oral sex makes girls popular, whereas intercourse would make them outcasts ... It's something that happens at a party, is whispered about between friends and forgotten about the next week. Intercourse is ... a huge leap from oral sex." The AGI report will appear in the December Family Planning Perspectives (Peterson, USA Today, 11/16).This is part of the KHN Morning Briefing, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.