Teens Turn to Oral Sex Seeking Safe Alternative, Study Finds

Two-thirds of U.S. teenagers and young adults ages 15 to 24 have had oral sex, according to U.S. researchers who say people in this group may mistakenly feel it’s less risky than vaginal intercourse.

This is the first time researchers asked young people about the timing of oral sex relative to vaginal intercourse, according to today’s findings by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It’s important to understand sexual activities of young people to help educate them about the risks, the authors wrote in the report.

The study, based on 6,346 interviews that followed behavior 2007 through 2010, determined that 66 percent of females and 65 percent of males had experienced oral sex. About 25 percent of both genders had oral sex at least once before they had vaginal intercourse for the first time, the survey found.

“Research suggests that adolescents perceive fewer health- related risks for oral sex compared with vaginal intercourse,” wrote the authors, led by Casey Copen in the division of vital statistics for the Atlanta-based CDC. “However, young people, particularly those who have oral sex before their first vaginal intercourse, may still be placing themselves at risk of STIs or HIV before they are ever at risk of pregnancy.”

About 28 percent of females and 27 percent of males hadn’t had any kind of sex at all, according to the Atlanta-based agency.

The percentage of teenagers who have had vaginal sex dropped from 51 percent in 1988 to 43 percent in the period from 2006 to 2010, the report said. Condom use increased, according to the report, though the rate of sexually transmitted diseases remained about the same.

Infection Risks

In 2010, half of new sexually transmitted infections occurred in people ages 15 to 24. Oral sex can transmit chlamydia, genital herpes, gonorrhea and syphilis, according to the report.

Though the researchers asked about whether oral sex preceded vaginal intercourse, they didn’t ask at what age the non-coital activity took place, so the amount of time between first oral sex and vaginal intercourse can’t be determined.

About 8 percent of females and 13 percent of males ages 15 to 17 had oral sex without vaginal intercourse; those numbers were lower among older teenagers, with about 6 percent of females and 7 percent of males who were 18 to 19 reporting oral sex without coitus.

The younger a girl was when she had vaginal intercourse for the first time, the more likely it was that she experienced oral sex afterwards, the survey found.

White teenagers were most likely to experience oral sex before vaginal intercourse, with 49 percent of those surveyed saying they had oral sex first. In contrast, 37 percent of Hispanic young adults had oral sex first, and 27 percent of black kids.

To contact the reporter on this story: Elizabeth Lopatto in New York at elopatto@bloomberg.net.

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Reg Gale at rgale5@bloomberg.net.

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