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Health & Sex

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1 in 5 Young Teens Report Having Tried Oral Sex

14-Year-Olds May See Oral Sex as Abstinence

Oral Sex Doesn't Mean Safe Sex continued...

"This has to be a consistent message: When people engage in oral sex they should use a barrier method," Landry says. "Unfortunately, in the U.S., fewer and fewer teachers are talking about how condoms can be used to prevent STDs or even pregnancy -- let alone how condoms can be used in the context of oral sex."

Most adults see oral sex as sex. Teens don't.

"It is not considered real sex to teens," Halpern-Felsher says. "They think they are still virgins if they had oral sex compared to vaginal sex. Oral sex is something else. For teens it is not under the rubric of sex as we know it today."

This has important implications for every kind of sex education.

"It is so incredibly important that when people are working with teens they must not just say, 'When you are having sex,' because that won't cover oral sex," Halpern-Felsher says. "We really need to break the barriers and start talking about all the things we consider to be sexual experiences."

When to Have the Big Talk

Since oral sex is already prevalent at age 14, these conversations have to take place before a child reaches puberty.

"There is no data on exactly how young you should start -- maybe at age 10 or 11, but we have no evidence," Halpern-Felsher says. "But regardless of the child's age, don't hide from the conversation. We do know that parents who have complete conversations with their children about sex have kids who make wiser decisions about these issues."

Halpern-Felsher and Landry say the "big talk" isn't as effective as more frequent, more casual conversations. There are many opportunities for such discussions.

"Instead of just one big talk, you absolutely need ongoing conversations," Halpern-Felsher says. "There are many teachable moments when we parents can discuss issues of sexuality with our children, especially as our culture is awash with sexuality. It is important to seize those moments rather than to let them pass by. It is important to be open and honest and have clear consistent messages with youth. The frequency and openness of conversations is important. It has effects both on delaying sex and on using protection when sex occurs."

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