Pundits nationwide are under the impression that the national moral compass, especially when it comes to teenage sex, is on the rise. However, a recent study, published by the CDC, covering oral sex (noncoitial) indicate that though teenage male sexual activity levels have not change, female teens and young adults are on the decline. Specifically the study concluded that noncoital sexual activities (sex without intercourse), such as oral sex, are common among teenagers and young adults. Based on the National Survey of Family Growth (NSFG) data from 2006–2008, 45% of females and 48% of males aged 15–19 years had ever had oral sex with members of the opposite sex, and among 20–24 year-olds, these percentages were about 81% of females and 80% of males.
The risk of sexually transmitted infections (STIs), including Human Immunodeficiency Virus or HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, is lower for oral sex than for vaginal intercourse or anal sex. However, several studies have documented that oral sex can transmit certain STIs, including chlamydia, genital herpes, gonorrhea, and syphilis.
Teenagers and young adults engaging in sexual activity are at increased risk of STIs or HIV due to a combination of behavioral and physiological factors. In the 20-year period from 1988 to 2006–2010, the percentage of female and male teenagers who ever had sexual intercourse declined from 51% in 1988 to 43% in 2006–2010. During the same period, significant increases in condom use at first vaginal intercourse occurred for both female and male teenagers.
Despite the decline in the percentage of teenagers who ever had vaginal intercourse and increases in condom use, the rate of STIs has not decreased, particularly among teenagers 15–19 and young adults aged 20–24 years.
In 2010, about one-half of all new STIs occurred among people aged 15–24. Some adolescents who have oral sex prior to first vaginal intercourse delay intercourse to maintain their virginity, and to avoid the risk of pregnancy and STIs. Other adolescents who have oral sex move more rapidly to first intercourse, suggesting that the timing of these behaviors for some adolescents occur in close proximity.
Research suggests that adolescents perceive fewer health-related risks for oral sex compared with vaginal intercourse. 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. Untreated or recurrent STIs can lead to serious reproductive and other health problems, including infertility. Given the higher rates of STIs among some groups of young people, it is important to understand the prevalence and correlates of various types of sexual behaviors, coital and noncoital, in this age group.
The 2002 NSFG showed that 22% of females and 24% of males aged 15–19 years who had never had vaginal intercourse reported having had oral sex. However, these data were not able to provide information on the relative timing of oral sex and vaginal intercourse among females and males who have had both types of sexual activity.
In 2007, a question was added to the NSFG for all persons aged 15–24 years who have had both oral sex and vaginal intercourse to determine which behavior occurred first. This report describes the prevalence of all types of sex with opposite-sex partners among females and males aged 15–24 years in the United States by key demographic characteristics. The timing of first oral sex relative to first vaginal intercourse for females and males is also examined by these characteristics.
Deborah Tolman, a professor of psychology at Hunter College in New York City and former director of the Center for Research on Gender and Sexuality at San Francisco State University, said that latest statistics did not surprise her.
But Tolman said the numbers were not as important as “what it means. … Why are they making those choices and what kind of an experience is it?”
Tolman said that cultural attitudes about risky behaviors needed to be understood for prevention programs to work.
Non-Hispanic white females reported having oral sex more often (69 percent) than non-Hispanic black females (63 percent) or Hispanic females (59 percent).
“The differential in race and ethnicity is not biological,” she said. “It’s about meaning. Why do people choose different behaviors in different cultures?”
She also worried about the gender imbalance between “who gives and who gets” oral sex.
“In order to support safe decisions, we have to recognize the meaning of these behaviors and how heterosexual relationships are negotiated,” said Tolman.
“Our girls need to know they are entitled to make a choice,” she said. “They are engaging in behaviors out of various forms of pressure — relationship and emotional pressure.”
Psychologist Michaelson said the new report underscored the importance of sex education.
“What we are up against is everything these kids see in the movies and what their parents’ comfort and discomfort is when they talk to them,” he said. “In all the advertising, we say, ‘Talk to your kids about drugs.’ Where are the ads that say, ‘Talk to your kids about sex’?”
And that is where a large measure of the problem lies. We don’t talk to our children in a responsible way about sex. Most of them get their information from the music they listen to and from the group of friend they hang with. It is extremely difficult to compete with the treasure trove of communication platforms our children are exposed to; but that should not keep us from trying.
Arguably, the best advice to parents of adolescent children is to lead by example; and to surround you kids with responsible exemplars. It’s one of the oldest truths known to man; and can be said in many different ways; I prefer to the phase “You are what you hang around.” But even this approach may be too general. The though here is that we really are not digging into the root of our sexual activities and the catalyst that are directly influence our choices. If you ask me, I would have to follow the logical conclusion and say that our choices are informed by our fears; at least most of them are.
So when you’re a teenager, their fears can have many different forms. One form in particular involves the value or worth they perceive of themselves and those that validate that perception. The validators are usually within their relative social community. Fear becomes the motivator when choices have to be made that might cause loss or diminishment of one’s perceived self value. This territory we avoid most because it could mean change and one of the things that we fear most is change if only because it might open the door to the unknown and thus it’s unpredictable.
Contributor: D. Chandler