For many parents, talking to kids about sex is challenging. It might be simpler to highlight the basics of how intercourse works and how to prevent pregnancy - but only discussing vaginal intercourse could leave kids in the dark about the risks of other types of sex, such as oral sex. Although there's no risk of pregnancy and a lower risk of sexually transmitted diseases associated with oral sex, diseases like herpes, hepatitis, gonorrhea, chlamydia, syphilis, and HIV can be transmitted when teens engage in oral sex. What do teens think about the risks of oral sex? Researchers from the University of California in San Francisco surveyed adolescents about their attitudes and acceptance of oral sex.
With their parents' permission, 580 9th graders from a variety of ethnic backgrounds answered questions about oral sex. Teens reported:
- how many times they'd had oral sex and vaginal sex
- whether they thought they'd have oral sex and vaginal sex in the next 6 months
- what risks they thought were associated with oral or vaginal sex (like becoming pregnant, getting HIV or chlamydia, or getting a bad reputation)
- what benefits they thought were associated with oral or vaginal sex (like experiencing pleasure, being more popular, or improving their relationships)
The teens also were asked how many teens their age they thought were having oral or vaginal sex.
About 20% of teens said they'd had oral sex, and about 14% of teens reported having vaginal sex. About 32% of teens said they intended to have oral sex in the next 6 months, and 26% of teens intended to have vaginal sex within the next 6 months.
Overall, teens thought that oral sex posed fewer health, emotional, and social health risks than vaginal sex. In some cases, many teens were misinformed about the risks of oral sex - about 14% said there's no chance they'd get chlamydia or HIV from oral sex, although there is a risk of these diseases being transmitted during oral sex. They also believed that:
- oral sex is more acceptable for teens their own age, compared to vaginal sex
- oral sex is less threatening to their values and beliefs
- more of their peers will have oral sex than vaginal sex in the future
What This Means to You: More young teens have had oral sex, compared to vaginal sex, and many teens may have misconceptions about the health risks associated with oral sex. What can you do? When talking with your child about sex, you can discuss the health and emotional risks of all types of sex, including vaginal intercourse, oral sex, and anal sex. If you need accurate information about the health risks of any type of sex, talk to your child's doctor or a family planning clinic, such as Planned Parenthood.
Source: Bonnie L. Halpern-Felsher, PhD; Jodi L. Cornell, MSW, MA; Rhonda Y. Kropp, BScN, MPH; and Jeanne M. Tschann, PhD; Pediatrics, April 2005
Reviewed by: Steven Dowshen, MD
Date reviewed: May 2005