Oral Sex Prevalent Among Teens
September 16, 2005
Just over half of U.S. teenagers ages 15-19 have engaged in oral sex, a proportion that increases with age to about 70 percent for those ages 18-19, according to a report released yesterday by CDC's National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS). The study, the most comprehensive national survey of sexual behaviors ever released by the federal government, also found that females and males reported similar levels of sexual experience, something that surprised researchers.
"You assume that females are more likely to give, males more likely to receive," said Jennifer Manlove, director of fertility research at Child Trends. "We were surprised that the percentages were similar." A previous NCHS report based on the same survey showed that slightly more girls than boys have intercourse before age 20.
According to researchers, the data underscore the fact that many young people, especially those from middle- and upper-class white families, take a different view of oral sex than that of their parents' generation. "Oral sex is far less intimate than intercourse," said Claire Brindis, professor of pediatrics at University of California-San Francisco. "At 50 percent, we're talking about a major social norm. It's part of kids' lives."
The findings are likely to intensify the debate over abstinence-only sex education. Supporters of these programs say they result in teens delaying intercourse, but opponents argue they have also led them to substitute other behaviors like oral sex. The new report tends to support this view, as it found that nearly one in four teen virgins has engaged in oral sex.
Brindis said many teens understand that postponing intercourse is a good thing to do. When weighing the advantages and disadvantages of intercourse vs. other forms of sex, teens often decide they are more at risk with vaginal sex because of pregnancy and STD risks. "They're smart about this issue but they may not have been given a strong enough message about the risks of oral sex," said Brindis. Clinical studies have linked oral sex with several infections, including herpes, gonorrhea, syphilis, and human papillomavirus.
The survey, administered in 2002 and 2003, includes numerous findings about sexual behaviors among people ages 15-44. For example, nearly 11 percent of women ages 15-19 said they had experienced some kind of same-sex activity, a figure similar for 15- to 44-year-old women in general. Proportions of men reporting some kind of same-sex activity were lower.
09.16.2005; Laura Sessions Stepp
This article was provided by CDC National Prevention Information Network. It is a part of the publication CDC HIV/Hepatitis/STD/TB Prevention News Update.