John Neumann for redOrbit.com – Your Universe Online
According to a new report, two-thirds of American youth, ages 15 to 24, admit to engaging in oral sex and that they mistakenly feel it carries less risk of disease transmission than traditional intercourse.
The report’s authors stress the importance of understanding the sexual activities of young people and to educate them about the risks, reports Elizabeth Lopatto for Bloomberg.
“Research suggests that adolescents perceive fewer health- related risks for oral sex compared with vaginal intercourse,” wrote the authors, led by Casey Copen in the division of vital statistics for the Atlanta-based Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
“However, young people, particularly those who have oral sex before their first vaginal intercourse, may still be placing themselves at risk of STIs or HIV before they are ever at risk of pregnancy.”
Researchers conducted 6,346 interviews regarding behavior from 2007 through 2010 and determined that 66 percent of females and 65 percent of males had experienced oral sex. Almost 25 percent of both genders had oral sex at least once before they had vaginal intercourse for the first time, the survey found.
A majority of sex researchers had believed that oral sex was being used to defer vaginal sex, but that doesn´t seem to be the case for most teens today, explains Terri Fisher, a professor of psychology at Ohio State University.
Differences were noted however, when the data was broken out among racial lines. Non-Hispanic blacks generally began vaginal sex earlier than whites, and whites were more likely to engage in oral sex before vaginal intercourse.
Other research suggests that more young people are deferring all types of sexual activity later than their parents and grandparents did.
The only demographic group that postponed vaginal sex until substantially after oral sex were young white girls of educated mothers, writes Karen Weintraub for USA Today. It is thought that those whose mothers impressed upon them the need to avoid teenage pregnancy were being heeded, researchers say.
Also noted by the researchers was the fact that girls and boys gave and received oral sex equally and that sexual activity began at roughly the same age, with 44 percent of 15- to 17-year-old boys and 39 percent of girls the same age, engaging in some kind of sexual activity with an opposite-sex partner.
“It certainly would suggest that the gender differences found previously no longer exist,” Fisher says.
The overall picture of this research suggests that sex education programs need to directly address oral sex as well as vaginal intercourse, says Craig Roberts, an epidemiologist at the University of Wisconsin-Madison´s University Health Services department and a member of the American College Health Association.
There´s no such thing as totally “safe sex,” Roberts says, though oral sex reduces pregnancy risk to zero and HIV risk to almost nothing. But he notes that people who perform or receive oral sex are still at risk for other sexually transmitted diseases such as herpes, gonorrhea and chlamydia. Condom use is unlikely during oral sex, he and others add.
The growing frequency of oral sex means parents also need to address it with their children, says Heather Eastman-Mueller, a sexuality educator at the University of Missouri. Instead of worrying about “the” talk, though, she advises parents to consistently talk in age-appropriate ways about sexuality, morality and physical self-esteem.
“It should be a conversation you have all the time,” Eastman-Mueller says.