One of my colleagues works exclusively with teens and is noting an increase in oral sex among teens. It is interesting because the teens report being virgins and are adamant that they aren’t having sex. According to a recent study, researchers in California found that oral sex is the most frequently practiced sex act among teenagers engaging in sexual activity. Only 9 percent of high school students who have had oral sex are still virgins two years later. Oral sex has become the gateway to intercourse. The teen is in denial and not aware that oral sex is still sex and carries a risk of STD as well as teen pregnancy because most times sex does not stop with oral sex.
In the study mentioned above, Dr. Bonnie Halpern-Felsher Ph.D. from the University of California followed more than 600 students attending two northern California high schools from 2002 to 2005 in order to understand the role of oral sex in the progression of teen sexual behavior. The teens filled out questionnaires every six months from the start of ninth grade and the end of the 11th grade. More than 90 percent of ninth grade students said they had not yet tried vaginal sex, while 40 percent of the 11th graders reported the same. Over the course of the study, most teens reported having intercourse within the same six month period as their first oral sex experience. Overwhelmingly they had tried oral sex before trying intercourse.
Sex education programs overlook oral sex and focus on abstinence. Improving education in all forms of sex is vital for preventing teen pregnancies and STDs. The best sex education must begin in the home. We cannot rely on the schools to do what we fail to talk about at home with our teens. It is possible that preaching abstinence is enabling the denial that oral sex is sex. If you are engaging in oral sex–and your parents and school is constantly bombarding you with the practicing abstinence concept, you can rationalize that you aren’t having sex, because oral sex won’t make you pregnant. Teens don’t typically think about the consequences of what oral sex will lead to: the risk of STDs, or intercourse and pregnancy.
How parents can help protect their teen:
1. Talk to your teen about sex. This can be done by beginning when your child is young with age appropriate opportunities. TV shows, lyrics on the radio are all good branching off points for parents to begin a dialogue about sex.
2. Make sure your child has an annual exam. When you have a girl and she begins her menstrual cycle make sure you take her to a doctor who can talk to her about her body, her cycle and her breast development. Your son should go with his dad to the family doctor and his body changes should be discussed. Boys need the same focus on understanding their changing body as girls do. Parents are an integral part of teaching their children to respect their changing body and to respect the bodies of others. No parent should ever use the excuse for not teaching their child, that their parents never taught them, or that they just had a book pushed at them about sexual development, when asked why they don’t teach their child about sexuality.
3. When your child asks you a question in regards to sex, their body, or a relationship, take it seriously. If you don’t know the answer, tell them the truth, reassure them that it is a good question and you will find the answer.
4. There should be nothing your child cannot ask you in regards to their sexual body. If you are too embarrassed, tell them you have “hang ups,” but you will find them someone they can talk to. Children are very forgiving when parents trust them enough to be honest with them.
5. Make a pact with your teen that their health always takes primary importance. Let them know you may not like their decision but you will do whatever you can to keep them safe. Teens take risks when parents disengage, and the child feels like there is nothing they can do to please their parent.
It is disturbing when therapists see children as young as 10 years old who are actively having oral sex. When the parents are brought to the session and the child admits to this, everyone is in shock. They question how did it happen and when did it happen, since the boy and girl are never alone together. Believe me; they have plenty of time to be alone together.
You taught your child how to ride a bike, how to throw a ball, and how to tie their shoe. You better teach them about their changing body, what sex involves, and that oral sex is sex and can lead to consequences that will affect them for the rest of their life. Schools nor anyone else can teach your child about sex as well as you.
Mary Jo Rapini, MEd, LPC, is a licensed psychotherapist and co-author with Janine J. Sherman, of Start Talking: A Girl’s Guide for You and Your Mom About Health, Sex or Whatever. Read more about the book at www.StartTalkingBook.com and more about Rapini at www.maryjorapini.com.