Sexual Studies: Oral Sex and Adolescents: Is everyone really doing it?

Oral-sex-e1345306257647Every Saturday, The CSPH highlights news or recent research in the field of human sexuality.  This week it’s all about oral sex, specifically how many teens are engaging in it and when they start.  The study, appearing in the August issue of National Health Statistics Reports, uses data from the 2007-2010 National Survey of Family Growth (NSFG) and focuses not only on how many teens are engaging in oral sex with opposite-sex partners, but also its timing in relation to vaginal sex.
.
Such data is important because despite decreases in the percentage of adolescents (age 15-24) engaging in vaginal sex and an increase in condom use at first sex in the 20-year period between 1988 and 2006-2010, there has been no change in the the rate of STIs in this age group.  Furthermore, adolescents often engage in oral sex, believing it is safer than vaginal sex despite the fact that it carries similar risks.  Because this age group is at a higher risk for STIs than older adults and acquires nearly half of all new diagnoses, it is important to look at the prevalence of both behaviors.
.
Demographics and Methodology
.
Researchers used a version of the NSFG that surveys men and women aged 15-44.  The information from this study is from a nationally representative sample of over 6,000 adolescents including those temporarily living away from their permanent residence on a college campus.  Participants were chosen using a multi-stage process that involved selecting addresses from progressively larger geographic areas and screener interviews at those addresses.  It is important to note that Hispanics, blacks, and teenagers were oversampled to achieve a nationally representative sample.
.
The NSFG utilizes a mixed methodology system to interview participants, including both computer-assisted personal interviewing (CAPI) and audio computer-assisted self-interviewing (ACASI) techniques.  In the former, an interviewer records responses on a computer, while in the latter, respondents answer questions that they either hear or read themselves.
.
What Did They Find?
.
In this age group, nearly an equal amount of boys and girls engaged in any form of sexual contact.  Similar results were seen when rates of vaginal and oral sex were looked at individually, although when it came to the latter, males tended to receive more than they gave.  While vaginal sex was more common among non-Hispanic Blacks and Hispanics of both genders, oral sex was more prevalent among non-Hispanic White females.  All of these results are particularly interesting to think about with regards to the role that cultural definitions of masculinity and femininity play in influencing the sex acts people engage in.
.
With regards to timing, the majority of adolescents had first vaginal sex prior to first oral sex; however, the exception to this was white adolescents who tended to do the opposite.  Given that non-Hispanic White males were found to be the most likely to give oral sex, this is not an entirely surprising finding.  Finally, a small percentage (approximately 10%) had their first experiences with both vaginal and oral sex at the same time.  This was slightly higher for males than females, implying that the former are more likely to attempt to “round the bases” than the latter.
.
In addition to sex and ethnicity, several other factors played a role in mediating the relative timing of oral and vaginal sex, including: age, mother’s education (used as a marker of socioeconomic status), and family type (e.g. single parent) at age 14.  Younger females, for example, were more likely to have had first oral sex after first vaginal sex; unfortunately, the authors do not comment on potential reasons for this finding, and it would have been interesting if they had explored it a bit more.  Finally, about one-third of adolescents interviewed had no sexual contact with an opposite sex partner.  Again, the authors do not elucidate on this finding and whether it means these adolescents had no sexual contact at all or just with opposite-sex partners.
.
Strengths & Weaknesses
.
The major strength of this study is the mixed methodology mentioned above.  Though some issues with recall may arise, this dual questioning system helps to reduce the likelihood that the respondent is simply reading the interviewer and telling them what they want to hear.  Additionally, this mixed methodology makes it possible for respondents with lower literacy to listen to the questions rather than read them.
.
On the other hand, the study’s biggest flaw is that it only asked about sexual acts that occurred with opposite-sex partners.  Not only does this exclude a large number of individuals, but it also biases the data.  In addition, because we do not know the screener questions, we cannot determine whether respondents simply lied about the “opposite” sex part. The study would have been stronger and more generalizable if the questions had asked about any oral or vaginal sex and, if the researchers were interested, broken this down further into same-sex and opposite-sex experiences.  Nevertheless, numerous issues, ranging from a lack of funding to prior research showing that the patterns of sexual behavior are the same, could also have influenced the authors’ decision.
.
However, as with all data collected via survey, the study is limited by certain biases.  For example, those without addresses such as homeless youth or youth in transition were excluded from the study.  That being said, the researchers did a good job working within the limits that plague any survey-based study.  To reduce bias, family awkwardness, and unintended question sharing, they only surveyed one individual per eligible household.  Additionally, the researchers used a rigorous sampling design to attain a large, nationally-representative sample (including oversampling those populations such as minorities that tend to be underrepresented) and they incorporated a mixed interview methodology to hopefully reduce the receipt of “socially acceptable” answers.
.
Conclusions
.
This study is a good nationally representative reminder that adolescents are engaging in a variety of sexual acts, at least with opposite-sex partners.  Though it has both some major strengths and weaknesses, it serves to boost the existing literature in support of safer sex initiatives geared specifically towards this age group.  As the rates of STIs continue to rise, and, clearly, the number of adolescents engaging in behaviors that lead to them is still fairly high, this study subtly provides another reason to support increased safer sex education and access to contraception.
.
Citation
Copen, C. E., Chandra, A., & Martinez, G. (2012). Prevalence and Timing of Oral Sex with
Opposite-sex Partners Among Females and Males Aged 15–24 Years: United States, 2007–2010. National Health Statistics Reports, 56:1-16.

Share this:
Facebook Twitter Email Tumblr Stumbleupon Digg Reddit

Speak Your Mind

*


*