Survey Details Teen Views of Oral Sex

A new survey shows that about 55 percent of teens report having had oral sex. The researchers say the study shows that teenagers who say that they abstain from sexual intercourse don't necessarily abstain from oral sex. According to the results, the rate of oral sex is about the same for boys and girls. The study was done by health experts from the Child Trends independent research center, who analyzed new federal health statistics.

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A study released today focuses on teen-agers and sexual behavior, and it shows that teens who say they abstain from sexual intercourse don't necessarily abstain from oral sex. The study was done by health experts from the independent research center Child Trends, who analyzed new federal health statistics. In a few moments, thoughts on whether surveys of teens on this subject are really believable. First, though, more on the study from NPR's Patricia Neighmond.

PATRICIA NEIGHMOND reporting:

Health experts from the non-profit research center Child Trends wanted to follow up on stories they'd been hearing about oral sex increasing among teens. Sociologist Jennifer Manlove says based on those stories, they had certain expectations.

Dr. JENNIFER MANLOVE (Sociologist, Child Trends): We have found, from media stories, that girls are engaging in oral sex as an alternative to sexual intercourse in order to please their boyfriends. And so we expected that girls would be more likely to report that they had given oral sex to boys, and boys would be more likely to report that they had received oral sex from girls.

NEIGHMOND: But that's not what they found. When researchers looked at a 2002 survey done by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, they found just as many boys as girls, about 55 percent, said they were giving and receiving oral sex. The study looked only at heterosexual practices. It found that heterosexual oral sex was more common among wealthier middle-class kids. Researchers also found...

Dr. MANLOVE: Among teens who have not had sexual intercourse, almost one in four have engaged in oral sex.

NEIGHMOND: Essentially trying to avoid pregnancy but putting them at great risk, says Manlove, of sexually transmitted disease.

Dr. MANLOVE: Teens who've engaged in oral sex are at risk of anything from chlamydia to herpes or gonorrhea to HIV.

NEIGHMOND: Manlove says cases of chlamydia and gonorrhea have increased in this country. It's not clear whether HIV or herpes or other STDs have also increased among teens. But Rebecca Holbrook is worried. Holbrook is a nurse and family planning counselor with Planned Parenthood in Chicago. Every week she talks with teen-agers in schools, at churches and at community events about sex, safety and individual sexual practices. Holbrook describes teens' behavior as often brash and foolish, with parties and group events often focused on oral sex.

Ms. REBECCA HOLBROOK (Planned Parenthood): We talk to them about any breaks in the skin in their mouths. For instance, if you brush your teeth and you have a little bit of blood when you brush your teeth, you don't think very much of it. You think you might have brushed too hard; you might have had a little bit of infection in the gum. But that is an opening for an HIV germ, or that's an opening for a sexually transmitted disease germ. And most of the kids don't even think about that. They don't think that a virus can be transmitted that easily or in that way.

NEIGHMOND: Holbrook takes a firm stand with the kids. There really is no justification for mistakes in today's world, she tells them. There's plenty of information in books, newspapers, on TV and radio. Pregnancy can result from intercourse, and disease can result from both intercourse and oral sex. The best protection, says Holbrook: a condom. But in the analysis from Child Trends, only one in 10 kids who engaged in oral sex said they used a condom. Patricia Neighmond, NPR News.

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