So, as I’ve been talking with parents and others involved with teenagers of the past few months one concern keeps coming up again and again: that adolescents are engaging in oral sex more often and at younger ages than ever before. I have been surprised at both the prevalence and the strength of this belief, so I decided to see what I could figure out in real numbers.

It’s pretty hard to assess what people are doing right now. It takes so much time to design a study, get permission to run it, ask people questions, analyze their answers, and get the data out in published form, that it’s hard to find really current data. Here is some of what I have found. It is important to note the differences in the populations mentioned! The 1996 data includes only virgins. The 2002 and 2005 data includes all adolescents.

  • In data published in 1996, 9 – 10% of adolescent virgins had engaged in oral sex.
  • In data gathered in 2002, 25% of all adolescents had engaged in oral sex by the end of 9th grade and 50% of all adolescents ages 15 – 19 had engaged in oral sex.
  • In data gathered in 2005, 20% of all 9th graders had engaged in oral sex.
  • For the studies in which the comparison was given, girls and boys provided oral sex to the opposite gender at similar rates.

There does appear to be an increase in oral sex among adolescents, but I’m still not sure what these numbers mean to individual adolescents or their parents. One important point to remember is that this increase has happened at the same time as a decrease in adolescent rates of sexual intercourse.

I am not sure yet what I think of these trends. I am concerned that adolescents are missing important information about transmission of STD/STIs, and therefore aren’t being safe in their oral sexual encounters. I am worried that adolescents do not see oral sex as sex, and are engaging in it more easily and without much thought to the emotional/social issues it can come with.

However, I think it’s a good idea to delay sexual intercourse. So is it better for adolescents to engage in early oral sex than it is for them to engage in early sexual intercourse? Is this a trade off that we should accept? Discourage?

(Which brings up another question I’ll have to talk about later: Is it appropriate for adolescents to engage in sexual activity? When? With whom? How much input/rule-making is appropriate for adults to engage in around this topic?)