Washington, DC – New analyses of data from the just-released 2002 National Survey of Family Growth (NSFG) by Child Trends show that among teens between the ages of 15 and 19, 55 percent of males and 54 percent of females reported engaging in oral sex in 2002 and are at risk for Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs).
Nationally representative data have been needed to replace speculation about the frequency of oral sex among teens. However, nationally representative statistics on this topic have not been available until now. With the release of NSFG’s survey, which is being carried out by the National Center for Health Statistics under the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), a more complete picture is emerging.
Among teens ages 15 to 19 who have had sexual intercourse, the proportion who have also engaged in oral sex is 83 percent for females and 88 percent for males.
And among teens in this age group who had not had sexual intercourse, almost one in four reported that they had engaged in oral sex (24 percent of males and 22 percent of females.) These teens are of particular public health concern because of their risk for sexually transmitted diseases while they may consider themselves to be “virgins”.
According to Jennifer Manlove, Ph.D., who directs research on fertility and family structure at Child Trends, “Those teens who are less likely to have sexual intercourse are more likely to have had oral sex. We found that, among teens who did not have sexual intercourse, white teens and teens whose parents had higher education and income levels were the most likely to have engaged in oral sex.”
These and other statistics on oral sex among teens, along with background information, are posted on the Child Trends DataBank.
“While not all teens are having oral sex, a substantial percentage of teens who have not had sexual intercourse are having oral sex and may think of themselves as ‘virgins’,” says Manlove, “We’re not sure whether these teens who have not had sexual intercourse are engaging in oral sex because they view it as a way to maintain their technical virginity or even because they regard it as an ‘easy’ method of birth control. What’s disturbing about these findings is that many teens seem unaware of the health risks associated with oral sex, such as the possibility of contracting sexually transmitted infections, including HIV. Parents, health educators, and designers of pregnancy prevention programs need to address these risks.”
Child Trends’ analyses of data from the 2002 NSFG also included looking at differences in the prevalence of oral sex by age and gender among all teens, among teens who have not had sexual intercourse, and among teens who have had sexual intercourse by age and gender. Highlights are presented below:
Oral sex among all teens: Among teens ages 15 to 19, a similar percentage of males and females engaged in oral sex (55 percent of males and 54 percent of females). Older teens were more likely to engage in oral sex. Specifically, among teens ages 18 to 19, 70 percent of males and 72 percent of females reported having ever engaged in oral sex, compared with 44 percent of males and 42 percent of females ages 15 to 17.
Oral sex among teens who have not had sexual intercourse: Among teens ages 15 to 19 who had not had sexual intercourse, no significant gender differences were found in oral sex experience. Almost a quarter of all teens ages 15 to 19 who had not had sexual experience (24 percent of males and 22 percent of females) had engaged in oral sex. Again, older teens who had not had sexual intercourse were more likely to have engaged in oral sex. Among teens ages 18 to 19 who had not had sexual intercourse, 31 percent of males and 35 percent of females reported having ever engaged in oral sex, compared with 21 percent of males and 18 percent of females ages 15 to 17 who had not had sexual intercourse. Among teens who had not had sexual intercourse, whites were most likely to report experience with oral sex: 26 percent of white males reported engaging in oral sex compared with 17 percent of Hispanic and 23 percent of black males. Among females, 25 percent of whites reported engaging in oral sex compared with 19 percent of Hispanics and 16 percent of blacks.
Oral sex trends: The new information on teen oral sex posted on the Child Trends DataBank also includes a limited amount of data on the overall time trend. These data are not available for females, but they are for males from published analyses of data on oral sex in the 1995 National Survey of Adolescent Males. The data show no overall significant increase in the receipt of oral sex between 1995 and 2002 among never-married males ages 15 to 19 (49 percent in 1995 versus 51 percent in 2002), but they do show an increase in the receipt of oral sex among males who had not had sexual intercourse (from 15 percent in 1995 to 21 percent in 2002).
Oral sex and condom use: Fewer than one in ten teens who engaged in oral sex used condoms to protect themselves from sexually transmitted infections. Only 9 percent of males and females reported using a condom the most recent time they engaged in oral sex.
The National Survey of Family Growth (NSFG), conducted by the National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS), collects data on factors relating to reproductive health such as sexual and contraceptive behaviors, and fertility outcomes and family formation such as marriage and divorce. This information is also relevant for addressing important public health concerns.
Child Trends, founded in 1979, is a nonprofit, nonpartisan research center dedicated to improving the lives of children and their families by conducting research and providing science-based information to the public and decision-makers. The Child Trends DataBank is a continuously updated resource of information on more than 90 indicators of child and youth well-being.