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Having Oral Sex Increases Likelihood of Intercourse Among Teens

November 1, 2010

Study by researchers at UC Merced and UCSF is the first to
track teens’ sexual behavior over time to determine whether oral
sex increases the likelihood of having sexual intercourse.

Half of teens who have oral sex during the ninth grade will have
intercourse by the end of the 11th grade, and most sexually active
teenagers will begin engaging in oral sex and sexual intercourse
within the same six-month period, according to findings from a new
survey conducted by researchers at UCSF and UC Merced.

The study is the first to track teens’ sexual behavior over time
to determine whether oral sex increases the likelihood of having
sexual intercourse or acts as a protective measure delaying the
onset of further sexual activity. The data, explain the
researchers, yield important information about adolescent sexual
development and the need to deliver more comprehensive sex
education programs.

“Health care providers, health educators and parents need to not
be shy about discussing oral sex with teens,” said Bonnie
Halpern-Felsher, PhD, senior author of the study and a professor of
pediatrics at UCSF. “I see most of the health policies out there
and guidelines for preventive services talking about sex generally,
but they do not specify oral sex. That is an important distinction
because teens don’t consider oral sex to be sex, and many are not
aware of the risks involved.”

Study results are published online by the Archives of Pediatrics
and Adolescent Medicine, available at

http://archpedi.ama-assn.org/
, and also will appear in the
March 2011 print issue of the journal.

“Our study demonstrates that through its relationship with
intercourse, oral sex contributes to the total risk associated with
sexual activity among teens, including sexually transmitted
diseases and pregnancy,” said

Anna V. Song
, PhD, first author of the study and an assistant
professor of
psychological
sciences
at UC Merced. “Understanding teen sexual behavior is so
important because incorrect assumptions about how and why teens
engage in sex can undermine interventions that aim to curb these
negative outcomes.”

Watcha video of Song talking
about the study.

The researchers followed more than 600 students at two northern
California high schools from the ninth grade through the end of
11th grade. All participants received their parents’ consent to
participate. From 2002 to 2005, the students completed a survey
every six months during class time about their sexual experiences.
Responses were consistent across different ethnic groups,
socioeconomic levels and genders.

Among teens who reported becoming sexually active during the
three-year study, most said they had intercourse for the first time
after or within the same six-month period of initiating oral sex.
According to Halpern-Felsher, this indicates oral sex is
influencing the onset of riskier sexual behavior, underscoring the
need to encourage open, honest discussion about sexual activity.

“We need to make sure teens know that if they do choose to have
oral sex, certainly it does involve less risk than intercourse, but
it’s not risk-free,” Halpern-Felsher said. “We also have to be sure
to ask teens if they have any questions. It sounds simple, but it
is a very important step that parents and health care providers
should be taking.”

Teens who had engaged in oral sex by the end of ninth grade were
at the highest risk of having sexual intercourse during high
school. They had a 25 percent chance of having intercourse by the
end of ninth grade and a 50 percent chance by the end of 11th
grade, with most engaging in both oral sex and intercourse during
the same six-month period.

In comparison, adolescents who delayed oral sex until the end of
11th grade had only a 16 percent chance of having intercourse by
the end of that school year. The researchers explain that, based on
these findings, the first two years of high school appear to be a
particularly vulnerable period.

“We don’t want parents to hear about these findings and say,
‘Thanks for the information. I’m locking up my teen until
graduation,’” Song said. “The most effective reaction is to use
this knowledge to have an informed conversation with kids that
addresses different types of sexual behaviors, including oral sex.”

In a previous study of adolescent sexual behavior,
Halpern-Felsher found that at least 20 percent of adolescents have
oral sex by the end of ninth grade and more than half of teenagers
15 to 19 years old engage in oral sex with members of the opposite sex.

The study was funded by grants from the National Institute of
Child Health and Human Development, the William T. Grant Foundation
and the Asian American Center on Disparities Research.




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