I DON'T KNOW WHETHER TO LAUGH OR CRY at the response to the National Center for Health Statistics' findings that over half of all teens between 15 and 19 have had oral sex.
Several leaders of organizations that study or work with youth expressed surprise at the level of girls' participation. "You assume that females are more likely to give, males more likely to receive," said Jennifer Manlove, who directs fertility research for the organization Child Trends. "We were surprised that the percentages were similar."
No, you assume that, Jennifer. And I assume you have never received oral sex. Or it would not surprise you that females like it.
And that cannot be her real surname.
Joe McIllhaney Jr., chairman of the Medical Institute for Sexual Health, said the new data confirm trends he has seen as a physician, but he has doubts about some of Wagoner's conclusions. "I question how much girls enjoy" oral sex, he said."I'd like to know a whole lot more about the pressure boys put on girls."
Well, it depends, Joe. Are we talking about girls giving or receiving oral sex?
The data also underscore the fact that many young people -- particularly those from middle- and upper-income white families -- simply do not consider oral sex to be as significant as their parents' generation does. "Oral sex is far less intimate than intercourse. It's a different kind of relationship," said Claire Brindis, professor of pediatrics at the University of California at San Francisco.
The first sentence is probably true. But obviously Claire Brindis believes that committed couples in love with their partners don't have oral sex. And that intercourse is inherently intimate and loving. Is this woman an idiot, or has she just never had good oral sex with someone she loves? In any case, oral sex is not a "relationship." And intercourse is not a "relationship." A relationship is a connection between two people, and sex is the physical expression of that relationship. Or it isn't.
And here's a man who actually is employed by an organization that works to prevent teen pregnancy:
Bill Albert, communications director for the National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy, put the generational difference this way: "We used to talk about sex in terms of first base, second base and so on. Oral sex was maybe in the dugout." The news for parents, he said, is that they must broaden the discussions they have with their children about sex and be more specific. "If they want their teens to abstain from sex, they need to say exactly what they want their kids to abstain from."
And if parents want to protect their teens from unintended pregnancy, they need to come to grips with the real world, in which teenagers do often have sex regardless of what their parents want. Telling your teenage children to abstain from sex is terrific. Telling them about contraception and making sure they have access to contraception will go a long way toward actually preventing pregnancy if they decide to have sex anyway. And by the way, Bill, just to let you know, since you are professionally involved in preventing teen pregnancy: If you're going to have sex, oral sex prevents pregnancy.
But all is not lost. Here's Claire Brindis again:
Many teenagers have fully accepted the idea that postponing intercourse is a good thing to do, Brindis said. When they weigh the advantages and disadvantages of intercourse vs. other forms of sex, they decide that they are far more at risk with intercourse, because of possible pregnancy and the greater risk of infection. Teens also consider oral sex more acceptable in their peer group than vaginal sex.
"They're very smart about this issue," Brindis said, "but they may not have been given a strong enough message about the risks of oral sex. Maybe we need to do a better job of showing them they need to use condoms." Oral sex has been associated in clinical studies with several infections, including gonorrhea, syphilis, herpes and the human papillomavirus, which has been linked to cervical cancer. Condoms and other forms of contraception can be used to decrease the health risks of oral sex, but few teens use them.
Now that's a conversation parents might want to have with their teens.