U.S. Teenagers View Oral Sex as Less Risky Than Intercourse, Say Oral Sex Not Really Sex, Survey Shows
U.S. teenagers view oral sex as "not sex" and less risky than sexual intercourse, according to a study published in the April issue of the journal Pediatrics, Reuters reports. Bonnie Halpern-Felsher, a pediatrician at the University of California-San Francisco and colleagues surveyed 580 multi-ethnic ninth graders with a mean age of 14.5 at two California high schools on their views about the risks and perceptions of oral sex (Reuters, 4/4). Teenagers were asked to estimate the risks of contracting a sexually transmitted disease, including HIV, from oral sex and were asked about the social and emotional costs of engaging in oral sex, the AP/Houston Chronicle reports (Johnson, AP/Houston Chronicle, 4/3). The researchers found that 20% of the teens surveyed said they had engaged in oral sex, while 14% of the teens said they had engaged in vaginal sex. In addition, 33% of teens said they planned to engage in oral sex in the next six months, compared with 25% who said they planned to have sexual intercourse in the next six months (Reuters, 4/4). The teenagers surveyed said that oral sex is less risky, more prevalent and more acceptable for their age group than sexual intercourse, according to the AP/Chronicle. Boys and girls reported similar experiences and opinions about oral sex (AP/Houston Chronicle, 4/3). Boys more commonly performed oral sex on girls than vice versa, according to the study, Reuters reports. In addition, teenagers "rarely" reported using condoms or dental dams during oral sex, according to Reuters (Reuters, 4/4). Although there is "little reliable data" on the risk of spreading STDs through oral sex, it is known that HIV, herpes, hepatitis, gonorrhea, chlamydia and syphilis can be spread through oral sex, according to the AP/Chronicle (AP/Houston Chronicle, 4/3). Although the risk of spreading STDs through oral sex is "significantly less" than with sexual intercourse, teenagers likely underestimate the risks of oral sex, according to the study, Reuters reports (Reuters, 4/4).
Halpern-Felsher said that "stereotypes" about oral sex "don't exist as much anymore," adding, "Girls and boys both see oral sex as not being a big deal," according to the AP/Chronicle (AP/Houston Chronicle, 4/3). "Given the suggestion that adolescents do not view oral sex as sex and see oral sex as a ways of preserving their virginity while still gaining intimacy and sexual pleasure, they are likely to interpret sexual health messages as referring to vaginal sex," she said, adding, "Adolescents also believed that oral sex is more acceptable than vaginal sex for adolescents their own age in both dating and non-dating situations, oral sex is less of a threat to their values and beliefs and more of their peers will have oral sex than vaginal sex in the near future" (Reuters, 4/4). Dr. Robert Blum of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, who was not involved in the study, said that although the survey had a small sample size, it still is interesting, according to the AP/Chronicle. "Adults are sitting there yelling at each other about abstinence, condoms, oral contraception and abortion, and kids have found their own path," Blum said, adding, "That's the most important issue that underlies these data: Adults are more clueless than we would like to admit." David Landry, a researcher at the Alan Guttmacher Institute, said that there soon will be more data on teenagers and oral sex from the federal National Survey of Family Growth, according to the AP/Chronicle. He said the study is "encouraging" because it shows that teens recognize some risk with oral sex, adding, "Most adolescents also correctly recognized that oral sex is less risky than sexual intercourse" (AP/Houston Chronicle, 4/3).