Young Teens See Oral Sex as Less Risky

Today’s teenagers not only view oral sex as physically, socially and emotionally safer than vaginal sex, they’re also more likely to engage in it, according to new research. A study conducted by researchers at the University of California in San Francisco found that more ninth-graders have engaged in oral sex – or intend to try it within the next six months – than vaginal sex.

The study, published in the April issue of Pediatrics, involved 580 ninth-graders, whose average age was about 14-1/2, at two
California schools. The students completed questionnaires about their sexual experiences, attitudes and perceptions regarding oral sex versus vaginal sex among adolescents.

Among the study’s findings:

• More teens (19.6 percent) reported having had oral sex as opposed to vaginal sex (13.5 percent). In addition, 31.5 percent of the students said they intended to have oral sex in the next six months, compared to 26.3 percent who planned to have vaginal sex.

• The ninth-graders viewed oral sex as less likely to expose them to sexually transmitted diseases. For example, 53 percent noted that vaginal sex could bring a risk of Chlamydia, while only 38 percent perceived the same risk with oral sex.

• The teens also viewed oral sex as having fewer negative social effects than vaginal sex. For example, “getting into trouble” was listed as a consequence of vaginal sex for 72 percent of adolescents, but just 63 percent said that oral intercourse would have the same results.

The study also found that ninth-graders believe oral sex is more acceptable among their peers than vaginal sex and that it is less of a threat to their values and beliefs.

While most intervention efforts focus on adolescents having vaginal sex, these survey results suggest that oral sex must be addressed too, says lead researcher Bonnie Halpern-Felsher, Ph.D. “When teens are engaging in or considering oral sex, they need to know about methods to keep themselves safe from physical as well as emotional risks,” she says.

--Elizabeth A. Allen

Further reading:

  • Preparing for the Teen Years

  • The "S" Word in Adolescence

  • Setting the Stage for Talking to Your Kids About Sex

  • How to Stay Connected with Your Teen
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