When talking to my adolescent patients, I have started to hear that more of them are engaging in oral sex, and a study by the CDC just confirmed this. The recently released data confirm that about 2/3 of teens and young adults have had oral sex, which is about the same as those who have had vaginal intercourse. The data was based on online interviews with over 6,000 participants between the ages of 15-24, during the years 2007-2010.
The study also found that girls and boys both participated in oral sex and that sexual activity began at about the same age for both genders, with 44% of 15-17 year old males and 39% of girls engaging in some kind of sexual activity with an opposite sex partner. The gender gap in terms of sexuality has also narrowed.
While some teens in my own practice feel like oral sex is safer this is a misconception that needs to be refuted. While adolescents who perform or receive oral sex may be at no risk for pregnancy, and low risk for contracting HIV, the risk for other sexually transmitted infections including herpes, gonorrhea and HPV are still real. Most of my teens do not report condom use during oral sex.
This study confirms the need for more education for teens. While most parents have the talk with their children, how many parents are addressing oral sex? Many parents I see are still uncomfortable with discussing sexuality with their children and the thought that they may need to discuss oral sex makes them turn pale and cringe. They feel ill equipped for this discussion surrounding intimacy and are often looking for resources to help them. Many schools sex education courses do not even discuss oral sex and if so it is done in a cursory way.
If the CDC data is correct, then it is certainly the time to continue with good sex education and to discuss not only premarital vaginal intercourse, but oral sex as well. While it is true that the talk should be tailored to each child and may be different at different ages, the topic of oral sex, and an explanation of risks involved with this type intimacy needs to be explained. Just because a girl cannot get pregnant does not mean that oral sex is safe, and our tweens, teens and young adults need to continue to hear this.
Age appropriate discussions are a necessary part of parenting and should be continued throughout those teen years, even if the teen doesn't always agree with that premise. The more you are open and honest during these discussions with your adolescent the smarter their decisions will be.
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