1 in 5 Young Teens Report Having Tried Oral Sex
14-Year-Olds May See Oral Sex as Abstinence
Oral Sex Is Acceptable Sex
"We are finding that these ninth-graders -- and they are really young -- are engaging in thinking about these things," Halpern-Felsher says.
And what these young teens are thinking may surprise their parents.
"Young adolescents are perceiving that oral sex is less risky than vaginal sex in terms of health risks -- STDs, pregnancy, and HIV," Halpern-Felsher says. "They also see oral sex as having fewer social and emotional risks. They think they are less likely to feely guilty, to get in trouble, to have a bad reputation, or to have a relationship problem. They also felt oral sex is more acceptable. They think more teens are having it, and that it is OK in the context of both a dating and nondating relationship -- a one-night stand in our terms."
One finding that worries Halpern-Felsher is that a small but significant proportion of teens think oral sex carries zero physical risk. Fourteen percent of teens said there was zero risk of getting HIV from oral sex, and 13% said the behavior carried zero risk of transmitting chlamydia. Only 1% and 2%, respectively, thought vaginal sex carried zero risk of HIV or chlamydia infection.
Experts say there is no doubt that oral sex can transmit virtually any sexually transmitted disease - and chlamydia. The risk of getting most of these infections from oral sex is lower than the risk of getting them from vaginal sex. But the exact risks of oral sex are largely unknown, Landry says.
Oral Sex Doesn't Mean Safe Sex
"I would say it is encouraging that most adolescents are aware there is a risk of STDs from engaging in oral sex," he says. "This research clearly indicates that most youth also are aware that oral sex is less risky than sexual intercourse. But it is important for them to know that our scientific understanding of risk of STDs from oral sex isn't very well defined. We simply know there is a risk. How much risk we don't reliably know at this time."
This does NOT mean that unprotected oral sex is safe sex. Safe oral sex means using barrier protection --- condoms or dental dams -- to prevent infection. If abstinence is the only safe sex method a person uses, then abstinence must include oral sex as well as vaginal sex.