Why Oral Sex Isn’t a Good Idea

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(The Vancouver Sun, May 27, 2002)

Q: I was watching Oprah last week and they discussed a very disturbing trend among teens—oral sex! How do I even begin to talk to my 14-year-old daughter about it?!

Signed, One Very Scared Parent

Saleema and Teresa: We also saw this show and are just as concerned as you are about this scary trend in teen sexual behavior. Sadly, this trend is not new. In our work over the past few years in high schools across the province, it is clear that many teens view oral sex as a “safe” alternative to vaginal intercourse. They feel it allows teenage girls to remain virgins (just like Britney Spears—yah right!) and does not carry the risk of pregnancy. Even more disturbing is the finding that many teens don’t even consider oral sex to be "real sex" (we can thank Bill Clinton for that one!).

A recent Seventeen magazine survey found that 55% of teens aged 13-19 had experimented with oral sex. This is a problem a couple of reasons.
First, many teens engaging in oral sex are not aware of the associated STD risks such as genital herpes, genital warts, and chlamydia. To make matters worse, teens feel they are exempt from STDs even if they are aware—the old “It won’t happen to me” scenario. The fact is, 4 million teens contract an STD in the US every year, and some of these are the result of oral sex. Statistics on this side of the border are not much different–women between 15 and 19 have the highest rates of chlamydia in Canada. Second, we know that females are usually the givers of oral sex, and males are the receivers. This finding makes it important to look at girls’ motivation to perform oral sex. An element of power or coercion may be involved and girls may also use oral sex as a way to "keep" a boyfriend while preserving their virginity.

So what can parents do? Well, here’s the good news: Research tells us
over and over again that teens want to learn about sexual health from their parents. We also know from research that what teens learn from their parents (as opposed to their friends) about sexual values and morals is most likely to affect their sexual behavior in a positive way. You may want to start here:

  1. In the words of Dr. Phil, Oprah’s psychologist, remind your daughter every day how special she is. If she feels special at home, she will feel the confidence outside of the home to resist pressure to engage in behaviors she is not comfortable with. She will set expectations for herself and others, and will be less likely to compromise her values, beliefs and health in order to please someone else.
  2. Communication is key. Parents must teach their pre-teens and teens the assertiveness skills to vocalize activities they are comfortable with and those they are not. Recognizing that teens (whether we like it or not!) are sexual beings, discuss with your daughter safe ways to be intimate with another person such as hanging out, talking on the phone, holding hands, hugging and kissing. Practice using “I” statements such as “ I’m not ready to do that with you.”, “I don’t want to have sex until I’m an adult.” or “I don’t like it when you pressure me into doing things I am uncomfortable with.” Remind her not to fall for lines like “But I want to feel closer to you.” or “I’m just so attracted to you I can’t keep my hands off of you!”
  3. Talk consequences. Give your daughter the hard facts about STDs, but don’t forget to address the emotional consequences of oral sex. Ask her to think of girls at her school who are known to perform oral sex on guys–how do people view them? What is their reputation like? Are these the girls who get asked to the prom? Would performing oral sex make someone like her as a person or want to be in a relationship with her? Most importantly, how would oral sex fulfill her emotional needs? She may feel needed on a physical level, but would she feel loved, cared for or respected? Probably not. Talk about the power imbalance and why it is a problem.
  4. Don’t be afraid to make your family values crystal clear (i.e. "In our family, we don’t engage in sexual activity until we are 55!"). Your daughter will also need guidance in developing her personal boundaries. Many teens tell us "Well, it’s simple–I’m going to be abstinent until I’m married." Great, we say in response. But what does abstinence mean? Teens need to develop a list of specific behaviors they are comfortable engaging in, and those they are not in order to make decisions about their body that keep them safe both physically and emotionally. And remember (write this on her bathroom mirror if you have to), oral sex IS sex!!!