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."
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.
"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."