And Oral Sex
"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, it's 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
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"
- 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
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!
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.
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!
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.
An 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).
Walt Mueller is the Founder and Executive
Director of The
Center for Parent/Youth Understanding, a nonprofit organization
committed to building strong families by serving to bridge the cultural-generational
gap between parents and teenagers.