Teens and Oral Sex
– by Walt Mueller
2001 The Center for Parent/Youth Understanding
What’s sex? – that’s the question curious young children often ask their parents when they first hear the little three letter word. Believe it or not, its also a question today’s parents should be asking their children and teens. Recent research on an alarming new trend in the teenage and early adolescent population shows that while more kids might be choosing abstinence when it comes to having sex, they are defining sex as nothing less than the act of sexual intercourse. In fact, a growing body of anecdotal and research evidence points to the fact that more and more kids are participating in oral sex experiences, while fewer and fewer equate the act with having sex.
In a recently released Alan Guttmacher Institute report, Oral Sex Among Adolescents: Is It Sex or Is It Abstinence?, Lisa Remez notes that hints of this new trend in teenage sexual activity did not appear in the popular press until 1997. An article in the New York Times reported that high school students who had come of age with AIDS education considered oral sex to be a far less dangerous alternative, in both physical and emotional terms, than vaginal intercourse. Remez discovered that 1999 press reports in the Washington Post described an unsettling fad among suburban middle-school students who were regularly engaging in oral sexual activity in their homes, in parks, and on school grounds. The article reported that counselors and sexual behavior researchers believed that about half of all kids had been involved in such behavior by the time they reached high school. Then, in April of 2000, another New York Times story quoted a Manhattan psychologist as saying oral sex among seventh and eighth-grade virgins is like a goodnight kiss to them.
How prevalent is oral sex among today’s children and teens? We really don’t know. Most research on teen sexual activity over the years has focused solely on vaginal intercourse. What we can be fairly certain of is that it’s happening more than we realize and it’s happening more frequently among a growing portion of the adolescent population. One recent source of data is the Urban Institute’s (www.urbaninstitute.org) National Survey of Adolescent Males, a study of the genital sexual activities of 15 – 19 year old boys. This survey reveals alarming numbers that reflect our culture’s increased disregard for a Biblical sexual ethic: 55 percent reported that they had ever engaged in vaginal intercourse; 53 percent that they had ever been masturbated by a female; 49 percent that they had ever received oral sex; 39 percent that they had ever given oral sex to a female; and 11 percent that they had ever engaged in anal sex. In August of 2000 the Kaiser Family Foundation (www.kff.org) reported that although the percentage of all high school students (9th-12th grade) who report ever having had sexual intercourse has declined over the last decade, 55 percent of teens aged 15-19 reported having engaged in oral sex. It is believed that the great majority of teenage oral sex is being performed by girls on the boys, and not vice-versa.
Since behavior is always an outworking of underlying values and attitudes, it’s important to look at why kids are engaging in oral sexual activity. USA Today’s Karen Peterson reports on many of those reasons in her recent article, For many teens, oral doesn’t count. (11/16/00). The biggest reason is that many kids don’t think oral sex is sex. Robert Blum, director of the division of general pediatrics and adolescent health at the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities told Peterson, Most younger teens, even 10- to 12- year-olds, and maybe most teens, don’t define this as sex. Blum goes on to say that part of the problem is that we define sexual behavior in a very narrow way. And we talk about abstinence, but we are never clear what we are abstaining from.
Peterson goes on to list numerous other factors experts cite including:
$ Early maturation – kids, especially our girls, are reaching physical maturity at a much younger age. Research shows that some girls are developing breasts and pubic hair at age eight.
$ The Clinton-Lewinsky scandal – kids know that Bill Clinton said oral sex isn’t sex. Because the President did it, it must be okay.
$ The media – references to oral sex have become commonplace since the presidential scandal. As a result, public awareness has increased.
$ The freedom from pregnancy and the belief that oral sex is safe from disease – kids have come to the conclusion that oral sex is safe sex.
$ Instant gratification – we live in a feel good culture.
As postmodern moral relativism continues to take root and grow in our collective cultural conscience, we should fully expect this trend towards teenage oral sexuality activity to increase. It’s essential that we make a diligent effort to reverse this trend for the sake of the spiritual, physical, and emotional health of our kids. CPYU suggests that the following strategies be implemented as part of a comprehensive response:
First, we should teach, model, and celebrate a Biblical sexual ethic. The criticism that God’s plan for sex is stifling and outdated couldn’t be further from the truth. The God-given gift of sexuality and sexual intimacy is a wonderful thing when shared by a male and female who have committed their lives to each other in marriage. This is true sexual freedom!
Second, parents and youth workers must teach students that vaginal intercourse is not the only sexual activity to be guarded and treasured until marriage. Many kids indicate that while they’ve been told to wait until marriage for intercourse, nobody’s ever given them any direction about oral sex. Current trends dictate that we make every effort to teach kids about all types of inappropriate and sinful premarital sexual activity.
Third, we need to keep our eyes and ears open in order to know what’s happening in our little corner of today’s youth culture. If we don’t, we run the risk of making the mistake that so many have made before – that is, believing that while these behaviors happen in other communities, they certainly aren’t an issue for my kids or the kids in my neighborhood. Be aware!
Finally, we should speak openly about the consequences of oral sex. Yes, oral sex makes kids, especially girls, feel used and objectified. Yes, you can contract a sexually transmitted disease through oral sex including HIV, human papillomavirus, herpes simplex virus, gonorrhea, syphilis, chlamydia and chancroid. And most important, oral sex is a sin issue that must be dealt with and resolved.
A 15-YEAR-OLD SPEAKS
Here’s what one a 15-year-old girl from Wisconsin told USA Today’s Karen Peterson about oral sex:
Children from grades as early as sixth or seventh who hang from the top rung of the popularity ladder brag about activities such as these. The consensus in my high school is that oral sex makes girls popular, whereas intercourse would make them outcasts. The mentality is that oral sex is as far as you can go without maintaining any level of emotional attachment. It’s something that happens at a party, is whispered about between friends and forgotten about the next week. Intercourse is, for some people, a huge leap from oral sex. Intercourse is something that is carefully thought through. (11/16/00).
The Center for Parent/Youth Understanding grants permission for this article to be copied in its entirety, provided the copies are distributed free of charge and the copies indicate the source as the Center for Parent/Youth Understanding.
For more information on resources to help you understand today’s rapidly changing youth culture, contact the Center for Parent/Youth Understanding.