Volume 17 • Issue 9 / July 23 - 29, 2004

Getting beyond the hype Teenagers and oral sex

By Dr. Amy Glaser

The phrase “hooking up,” or as a New York Times article coined it, “Friends with Benefits,” has been in the media lately. The terms refer to casual sex in adolescence, particularly the apparent increase of oral sex. According to school administrators and health care providers, this activity is taking place early in adolescence, even in middle school. The media has focused on the dissociation between sex and intimacy.

All these reports and stories are less than scientific in nature, but they force us to think about the social environment of our teens and how it is affecting sexual exploration. Our teens are reading the same articles and hearing the same stories, thus a venue has been opened for the discussion of these issues

We as parents, educators and physicians must reinforce to our teens that oral sex is not meaningless, and it does carry significant risks. Herpes, syphilis, gonorrhea and Chlamydia can be contracted through oral sex. Though the rates of transmission of HIV through oral sex alone are low, there are documented cases. If the person performing oral sex has HIV, the blood from his or her mouth may infect the partner through cuts in the mucosa. Likewise cuts in the sexual organ can release infected blood into the mouth of the partner. The risk of transmission of sexually transmitted disease is even greater if sores are present or more than one STD is involved.

Oral sex in the media clearly has shock value. But parents, doctors and the media have a more important task to let teens know about the risks of oral sex. Our media should advertise that condoms are necessary for oral sex as well as genital contact. Latex barriers exist for females as well, to be placed over the genital organs before oral contact. These various devices come in colors and in flavors.

As for the lack of desire for intimacy, my experience, in my practice in Soho, does not support this trend. Teens are experimenting like always. Many of the parents of these same teens are the founders of the “free love” of the sixties which horrified their parents in the same way the seemingly casual oral sex is horrifying them.

Didn’t they eventually find mates and have these children? As for the need for intimacy among today’s teens, though they may not be “dating,” they seem to care deeply for their friends.

They also don’t take sex, oral or otherwise, lightly. Several times this year girls have come in before having sex, saying they had been thinking about whether they were ready and wanting to discuss what it would be like.

One young patient, whose mom had called hysterically the day before about her daughter having had oral sex, described to me in tears how carefully she and her boyfriend had decided to move ahead.

This is not a decision parents are likely ever to be comfortable with. Indeed, the battle between parents and adolescents over acceptable sexual behavior is eternal. Often a child’s decision to move forward sexually represents one of the most important steps of their lives toward independence. Parents need to strongly counsel children about the risks of sex, but the hand wringing about casual, meaningless sex is not always appropriate despite what one reads in the papers.

Amy Glaser, MD, a mother of two teenagers, has a private adolescent practice at 430 West Broadway, 212-941-1520. She can also be reached at aglasermd@aol.com

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