What Is Sex? "Technical Virginity" Becomes Part of Teens' Equation
October 19, 2005
A recent CDC study found that more than half of 15-to-19-year-olds have received or given oral sex. Although the study did not ask the particulars of such encounters, other research suggests that teens mostly believe "it's not sex."
The CDC report, released last month, shows that one quarter of teens who have not had sexual intercourse have had oral sex. The survey questions, asked via headphones and computer to assure maximum anonymity, clearly defined terms to eliminate ambiguity about what constitutes oral sex.
A 1999 study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association examined the definition of sex based on a 1991 random sample of 599 college students from 29 states. Sixty percent said oral-genital contact did not constitute having sex. "That's the 'technical virginity' thing that's going on," said Stephanie Sanders, associate director of the Kinsey Institute for Research in Sex, Gender, and Reproduction at Indiana University (IU) and co-author of the study.
J. Dennis Fortenberry, who specializes in adolescent medicine at IU's School of Medicine, said what constitutes sex tends to be defined in a culture and varies with the times, noting that at certain times in history, some kissing would be considered sex.
Questions Kids Ask About Sex, a new book from the Medical Institute for Sexual Health, an Austin-based nonprofit, says oral sex is sex. Melissa Cox, who worked on the book, said a medical panel for the institute determined oral sex is sex because it puts young people at risk for STDs, long-term emotional harm, and opens the door for other sexual activity.
Fortenberry disagreed. "If you look at the information that they have, you might find it difficult to cite a basis for that, other than someone's opinion," he said.
Last week, the federal government announced $37 million in awards to 63 abstinence-education programs across the country. But abstinence-only education may inadvertently send the message that oral sex isn't really sex, said John DeLamater, editor of the Journal of Sex Research. "We should be sending a message that sexual activity is much broader," he said.
10.19.05; Sharon Jayson
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.