TV & Radio
September 17, 2005
Aids fears lead teenagers to try safer kind of sex
From Tim Reid in Washington
MORE than half of American teenagers aged 15 to 19 say that they have had oral sex, with females and males reporting similar levels of experience, according to the most comprehensive survey of US sexual habits yet conducted.
The prevalence of oral sex among teenagers, particularly girls, surprised researchers, as did another trend: an increase in lesbian activity among young women.
Nearly 15 per cent of 18 to 29-year-old women reported at least one same-sex encounter, more than twice the proportion for young men. Lesbian activity dropped under 10 per cent among 30 to 44-year-old women. Of women surveyed in 1978, only 5 per cent had been in a lesbian relationship in the previous ten years.
Analysts said that the new finding may reflect anecdotal evidence of a recent trend on university campuses: a desire among some women to be “lugs” — lesbians until graduation.
Of the teenagers who said that they had engaged in oral sex, about one quarter said that they had not had sexual intercourse and considered themselves virgins. Analysts noted that young people most likely to have oral sex are white children from families with above-average incomes and education. The figure rose to 70 per cent among 18 to 19-year-olds.
The research, released by the US Government’s National Centre for Health Statistics, shows that teenagers do not consider oral sex to be nearly as significant as did their parents’ generation at that age.
In the sexual surveys conducted in 1947 and 1953 by Alfred Kinsey, only 10 per cent of males said that they had performed oral sex on a woman before marriage, when most would have been in their teens. The number of women who had given oral sex to a man before marriage was 19 per cent.
Claire Brindis, Professor of Paediatrics at the University of California, said: “It’s part of kids’ lives. Oral sex is far less intimate than intercourse. It’s a different kind of relationship.”
Dr Brindis said that many teenagers, raised in an environment where they are warned about the risks of HIV/Aids and other sexually transmitted diseases, have accepted that postponing intercourse is a good thing and have decided that oral sex is an alternative. Jennifer Manlove, an analyst with the research group Child Trends, said: “Some teens do not consider oral sex to be sex. A very significant proportion of teens has had experience with oral sex and may think of themselves as virgins.
“We’re not sure whether these teens who have not had sexual intercourse are engaging in oral sex because they view it as a way to maintain their technical virginity or because they regard it as an easy method of birth control.”
In addition to equal female participation in oral sex, the survey also found that the number of schoolgirls having one night stands equals that of boys.
The findings will stir debate in the US about abstinence- only sex education, which is backed by the Bush Administration.
While they suggest that it may be persuading more people to delay intercourse, Dr Brindis said that teenagers “may not have been given a strong enough message about the risks of oral sex”, which can lead to sexual infections.
Other findings from the survey of 12,571 people aged 15 to 44, were that men aged 30 to 44 had an average of six to eight sexual partners; women averaged four.
About 4 per cent of men and women described themselves as homosexual. About 1 per cent of men and 3 per cent of women had both female and male sexual partners in the previous 12 months.
63.3% of women and 63.9% of men aged 15-19, have had sexual contact with the opposite sex
55.1% of women and 54.3% of men aged 15-19 have taken part in oral sex
13% of males aged 15-17 who have not had sexual intercourse, and 11% of females, have taken part in heterosexual oral sex
10.6% of women and 4.9% of men aged 15-19 have had sexual contact with the same sex
Source: National Centre for Health Statistics
US: A Teen Twist on Sex - TIME