Oral sex IS sex,
and most teens don't know it

by Chris Wagner


Today's teenagers are having sex and many of them don't even know it. Three years ago, CPYU's Walt Mueller wrote about a sexual phenomenon that is "happening more than we realize," and "more frequently among a growing portion of the adolescent population." This phenomenon is oral sex.


Very little research was available regarding teens and oral sex when we last reported on the topic. Most of the research focused only on vaginal intercourse. A few years have passed and the alarming results are in: teens … and preteens, are engaging in oral sex, probably a lot more than you imagine.


Every teenager has to deal with sexual temptation. Unfortunately, adolescents are beginning to experiment with their sexuality at increasingly younger ages. And new research and the latest headlines suggest that oral sex may be the most pervasive means of experimenting. How bad has it become?


On the bus and in the schools

Earlier this year, four students between the ages of 12 and 16 were arrested and charged with lewd and lascivious conduct. A 13-year-old girl had engaged three boys in oral sex on the school bus. Allegedly, these actions were planned several hours in advance.


"Middle School Confessions," an HBO documentary about adolescent life today, reported pre-teens "as young as 11 talking about giving and receiving oral sex."


A recent article in the Chicago Sun-Times quotes a Rutgers University sex educator regarding oral sex, "At the back of the bus, in classrooms, in gyms when no one's around—all over the school it's happening."


Two Florida high school students were caught having oral sex in the back of a classroom while the rest of the class watched a movie shown by a substitute teacher.


The Medical Institute for Sexual Health reports, "oral sex is very popular among teens as young as 13." Even middle-schoolers get together at events known as "rainbow parties." Girls put on various shades of lipstick and take turns engaging guys in oral sex, leaving "rainbows" on their penises.


In the media

Advertisers are attempting to entice consumers using visual and verbal references to oral sex. Magazine ads from AXE, a men's line of deodorant products, visually imply that men who wear AXE deodorant will "win" oral sex. Dessert Beauty is a brand new line of edible beauty products launched in April by Jessica Simpson. Their Web site offered very short shorts to its first online customers. The front of the shorts read, "Sexy girls have … dessert." "Dessert" was written alongside a picture of lips inside a circle very near the crotch.


Oral sex is depicted in mainstream movies, TV shows, video games, music and music videos. Of the top-rated teen shows in the 2001-02 season, 83 percent contained sexual content, often about oral sex.


How rampant has this sexual act become among teens?

Check out these statistics:

·  Some 36 percent of teens ages 15-17 admit to having had oral sex. These numbers increase among teens and young adults ages 15-24.

·  About 75 percent of teens ages 15-17 who have had intercourse have also had oral sex, while 13 percent of teens ages 15-17 who have never had intercourse have admitted to engaging in oral sex.

·  Nearly 25 percent of 10th graders in an upper middle class school district in New England reported having multiple oral sex partners within the last year. The females reported having three to four partners.


These numbers are staggering. If you don't think it's happening in your school, community, church, or even under your own roof, you need to think again.


Why are so many adolescents engaging in such an intimate act?

The media heavily influences the way kids act, feel and respond to sexually related issues. The messages communicated by the media are that sex outside of marriage is okay (and expected!), oral sex is not as big a deal as intercourse, and exploring multiple sexual partners and experiences should be encouraged. And these messages are becoming more common and explicit in relation to oral sex.


Another factor is the varied perceptions that teens have about oral sex. A 2003 series of national surveys conducted for the Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF) and Seventeen magazine revealed that half of all teens ages 15-17 do not believe that oral sex is "sex." And why should we expect anything different? Teens are bombarded with the message that it's okay, yet where are the voices telling them otherwise?


As they mature and get older, teen views on oral sex only get worse. A survey of undergraduate students revealed that 59 percent of college students do not define oral sex as sex. Many are merely following the lead of former president Bill Clinton, whose message came across loud and clear when he said he did not consider his actions to be "sexual relations."


In the March 2003 edition of the Journal of School Health, directors and leaders of federally funded abstinence programs were surveyed regarding their definition of abstinence. This group could not even agree on a definition. Some considered oral sex as acceptable behavior for abstinent teens!


Postmodern thinking is also evident in the decisions teens make. They no longer rely on God's objective truth to dictate what is right and wrong. Rather, they rely on their feelings to determine whether or not something is right "for me" at that moment. If they think oral sex will make them "feel good," they'll give in. Until we teach kids to integrate their faith into all of life we should not expect anything else.


Another reason students are tempted to have oral sex is social pressure. More than 92 percent of teens think being a virgin in high school is good. But, in the eyes of many teens, you can have oral sex and still remain a virgin. One-quarter of sexually active adolescents report engaging in oral sex as a strategy to avoid intercourse! The belief that "everybody's doing it" may lead some teens to believe it's alright for them. A 2004 survey by KFF revealed that 61 percent of teens and young adults believe "waiting to have sex is a nice idea but nobody really does."


Oral sex is becoming so common among teens that many only consider it "third base." Peer pressure undeniably plays a large role. Guys are often the initiators of oral sex encounters, but more and more girls are willingly and enthusiastically participating. In some circles, it has become expected behavior for girls. Girls with lower self-esteem will often engage in oral sex just to remain in the group or to keep guys from leaving them.


Drugs and alcohol hinder the decisions teens make regarding their sexual activities as well. Students who use drugs or alcohol are three times more likely to participate in oral sex than nonusers.


Finally, a lack of knowledge about the dangers and risks of oral sex leaves many students to make uninformed decisions. For example, 40 percent of adolescents consider oral sex to be "safer" sex, while 20 percent of teens do not even know that STD transmission can occur through oral sex. The Medical Institute for Sexual Health clearly states that, "oral sex is sex, and is not part of the repertoire of abstinent behavior. Oral sex is likewise neither ‘safe' nor ‘safer' sex." Nobody is telling our teens these simple truths. STDs can be transmitted through oral sex. Of sexually active teens, one out of four will contract an STD every year.


What can we do?

First, we need to define oral sex, sex and abstinence. Oral sex IS sex. Engaging in oral sex is not part of abstinence. Pam Stenzel bluntly but accurately defines sex this way in her book, Sex Has a Price Tag—"Any genital contact at all, whether hand to genital, mouth to genital, or genital to genital, is sex." She goes on to say, "if you've had any genital contact at all, you've had sex." We need to make these definitions clear to young people.


We also need to point teens to God's unchanging Word. Scripture does not specifically address the issue, however, it does contain clear guidelines and commands about controlling our sexual behavior and living lives pleasing to God. Jesus clearly defines sexual immorality for us in Matthew 5:28: "But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart." This is a high standard to live up to, but it's what God expects. If lustful thoughts go against God's standards, so, too, do lustful acts. God has given us the wonderful gift of sexuality, but His intentions are that we enjoy it in the context of marriage, in a life-long committed relationship. We must strive to consistently model these biblical truths.


Many teens have already engaged in oral sex. These teens need to be shown love, guidance, a proper Biblical view of sexuality, and the wonderful forgiveness and grace of God. Encourage these teens to be checked out for STDs. Let them know they can be forgiven and their slate can be wiped clean. It may be hard for them to turn their back on their sexual partners and lifestyle, so be ready and willing to help them every step of the way.


Remember, our children and teens need to know that oral sex IS sex.



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