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6 April 2005
Adolescents Believe Oral Sex Safer And More Acceptable

Adolescents in the U.S. believe that oral sex is less risky to their physical and emotional health than vaginal sex and is more acceptable among their peers. They are also more likely to try oral sex, according to a University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) study published in the journal Pediatrics. "These findings suggest that adults should discuss more than one type of sexual practice when they counsel teens," said Bonnie Halpern-Felsher, at UCSF. Her study is the first to investigate adolescents' perceptions of the consequences of having oral sex as opposed to vaginal sex.

The survey showed that these young teens considered oral sex to be significantly less risky to their health than vaginal sex. The adolescents believed that oral sex also was less likely to have negative social and emotional consequences, such as a bad reputation, getting into trouble, feeling bad about themselves or feeling guilty. The teens also expected that more of their peers will have oral sex than vaginal sex in the near future. Approximately 20 percent of the ninth graders surveyed reported that they had tried oral sex, compared to 14 percent who said they had tried vaginal sex.

Almost one-third said they intended to have oral sex within the next six months, compared to 26.2 percent who intended to have vaginal sex.

"The fact that young adolescents around age 14 are having or considering oral sex and consider it safer and more acceptable than vaginal sex is important information for parents, health care providers and others who work with youth," Halpern-Felsher said. "When we counsel adolescents about the risks and benefits associated with sex, we need to understand how they perceive it among themselves." One troubling finding of the study was the teens' perception of the health risks of oral sex. Most of the participants recognized that there is some risk of infection with sexually transmitted diseases such as chlamydia and HIV, and accurately ranked this risk less than with vaginal sex. However, 14 percent of participants thought that the risk of STDs from oral sex would be zero.

The researchers noted other studies that show a general misperception that oral sex entails no risk at all or very little risk. When oral sex is more frequent, sexually transmitted infection rates could rise if those who engage in oral sex do not use barrier protection, they pointed out. "There is not much data about the chances of sexually transmitted infections due to oral sex, but there is a real risk," Halpern-Felsher said. "When teens are engaging in or considering oral sex, they need to know about methods to keep themselves safe from physical as well as emotional risks."


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