New data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reveal that two-thirds of young adults between the ages 15 and 24 in the United States engage in oral sex, but researchers suggest teens seem to be unaware of the risk of sexually transmitted infections that result from the act.
The information is based on 6,346 interviews conducted between 2007 and 2010.
The youngest group of teens interviewed were between 15 and 19 years old. From this group, 41 percent of females and 47 percent of males had received oral sex, while 43 percent of females and 35 percent of males had given oral sex.
But as age increases, so do the statistics. Among respondents between the ages of 20 and 24, 81 percent of females and 80 percent of males had engaged in oral sex.
Although these figures might seem large, oral sex among teenagers has dropped. In 2002, about 55 percent of 15- to 19-year-olds reported having engaged in oral sex, the New York Times reports. Between 2006 and 2010, that statistic fell to 48 percent for males and 46 percent for females.
Sexual intercourse practiced by 15- to 24-year-olds also dropped from 51 percent in 1988 to 43 percent in this most recent study. In addition, young adults were just as likely to engage in oral sex before their first sexual intercourse as they were to have intercourse first. Statistics show that 26 percent of females had oral sex first, while 27 percent had intercourse first. Conversely, 24 percent of males had oral sex first, while the same percentage had intercourse first.
The CDC oral sex data prove particularly interesting when coupled with the rise of STDs, including a spike in HIV infection rates among males 13 to 29 years old, ABC News reports.
"In our culture, there was a time when the president suggested that oral sex wasn't sex, and that is still with us, to some degree," Geoffrey Michaelson, a psychologist who specializes in sexuality, told ABC News. "Intercourse, frankly, is considered more intimate, the last step in the baseball analogy. There is a whole mystique about what is OK and what is not OK, but it's all self-delusion. From my point of view, any exchange of body fluid, touching, fondling or arousal, that is sex."
However, teens seem to be unaware of the dangers of oral sex.
In a national survey conducted for The Kaiser Family Foundation, 26 percent of sexually active teens between 15 and 17 responded that one “cannot become infected with HIV by having unprotected oral sex,” and an additional 15 percent didn’t know whether or not one could become infected in that manner, the CDC explained in 2009. Still, sexually active teens between 15 and 19 are at higher risk for acquiring some STDs than are adults are, for various reasons including behavior, biology and culture.
The CDC highlights: "According to the most recent estimates, 15–19 year-old females continue to have higher rates of Chlamydia and gonorrhea than any other age-sex group. While rates of syphilis among teenaged females and males are lower than those of other age groups, they have increased every year since the early 2000s."
AVERT emphasizes to teens that an STD infection can be caught by vaginal, oral or anal sex. The organization, which aims to spread knowledge to prevent HIV and AIDS, also bashes the misconception that only people who sleep with multiple partners get STDs, even though that can increase the odds.
Each year, there are about 19 million new infections and nearly half of all STD cases occur in teens ages 15 to 19.
Justin Garcia, an evolutionary biologist with the Kinsey Institute at Indiana University, told USA Today the results of the CDC study mark the "hierarchical reordering of oral sex in American culture."
Some see the results as a red flag warning that young people need more education on oral sex.
AVERT encourages teens to talk to parents, nurses and even school teachers.
"I would say that the risk of STD transmission through oral sex is underappreciated and underestimated," Christopher Hurt, a clinical assistant professor in the division of infectious disease at the University of North Carolina, told U.S. News & World Report. "As part of sex education programs, kids need to be made aware of that fact: that oral sex is not a completely risk-free activity."