2871 Adolescents and Oral Sex: Is It Really Something To Worry About?

Sunday, February 20, 2011: 10:00 AM
207A (Washington Convention Center )
Bonnie Halpern-Felsher , University of California, San Francisco, CA
     National studies show that the most common form of partnered sexual behavior among adolescents is oral sex.  While oral sex does not result in pregnancy, it can lead to STIs.  Most studies on adolescent sex have focused on vaginal sex, thus leaving important questions concerning adolescents’ attitudes, perceptions, and experiences with oral sex untapped.  This presentation will utilize longitudinal data collected over the first three years of high school to address the following questions: 1) What are adolescents’ beliefs concerning the social, emotional and health consequences of oral compared to vaginal sex? 2) What is the relationship between adolescent oral and vaginal sex? 3) What are the positive and negative outcomes experienced by adolescents who have engaged in oral sex, vaginal sex, or both?

     Beginning in the fall of 9th grade, 637 adolescents (56% female) were surveyed every 6 months for three years. Between 74% and 92% of the participants responded at each wave. Participants reported diverse ethnic and socioeconomic backgrounds.

     Results showed adolescents: 1) perceived oral sex to entail less social, emotional and health risks than vaginal sex; 2) believed that oral sex was more prevalent and more acceptable than vaginal sex; 3) who reported only having engaged in oral sex experienced fewer STIs as well as fewer social and emotional consequences, compared to adolescents who had vaginal sex experience; 4) who only engaged in oral sex reported experiencing fewer benefits, including pleasure or feeling good about themselves, compared to adolescents who had vaginal sex; 5) generally initiated vaginal sex after or within the same 6-month time period of their first report of oral sex; and 6) who initiated oral sex at the end of 9th grade represented a high-risk group with a 50% chance of initiating vaginal sex by the end of 11th grade. In comparison, adolescents who abstained from oral sex or delayed until the end of 11th grade had a 7% and 16% chance of initiating vaginal sex by the end of 11th grade, respectively.

     This study demonstrates that adolescents clearly view oral sex as less risky and more prevalent than vaginal sex, thus explaining in part the high prevalence rate of oral sex among adolescents.  The first two years of high school appear to serve as a critical period in adolescent sexual behavior. Oral sex initiation during this period increases the risk of vaginal sex initiation, with nearly half of those initiates engaging in vaginal sex within six months. The findings from this study suggest that oral sex must be included in prevention messages.

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