Title: New Study Finds Oral and Anal Sex Common Among Sexually Active Teens
Laura Duberstein Lindberg, Rachel Jones, and John S. Santelli, “Non-Coital Sexual Activities Among Adolescents,” Journal of Adolescent Health (July 2008): 1-14.
Although non-coital sexual acts—such as oral and anal sex—are common, little research has systematically studied these behaviors among adolescents. Anecdotal evidence, however, has led to a concern that today’s teens are engaging in oral and anal intercourse more than teenagers in the past, that they are responding to increasing pressures to remain abstinent by engaging in oral and anal intercourse as a way to stay “technical virgins,” and that they view oral and anal sex as less risky than “real” sex. A new study from researchers at the Guttmacher Institute seeks to determine what kinds of factors are associated with engaging in oral and anal sex and if teens do indeed substitute oral and anal sex for vaginal intercourse.
The study used data on 2,271 teens, ages 15–19, drawn from the 2002 National Survey of Family Growth, a nationally representative household survey. Data on non-coital sex was gathered through a computer-assisted, self-administered survey (ACASI), which has been shown to improve self-reporting of more sensitive behaviors.
The researchers looked at whether these teens had ever engaged in heterosexual oral, anal, or vaginal intercourse; how long it had been since they first initiated vaginal intercourse; and how many sexual partners of the opposite sex they had had in their lifetime. In addition, they examined a number of demographic variables, including age, race/ethnicity, and socio-economic status. Researchers also measured the teens’ attitudes toward sex based on whether they agreed with the statement: “It is all right for unmarried 18 year olds to have sexual intercourse if they have strong affection for each other.”
- Of the total sample of teens, 50% had ever engaged in vaginal intercourse; 55% had ever engaged in oral sex; and 11% had ever engaged in anal sex.
- White teens and teens from higher socioeconomic households were more likely to have engaged in oral and anal sex, while non-white teens and those from lower socioeconomic households were more likely to have engaged in vaginal sex.
- Teens with more conservative attitudes towards sex were less likely to have engaged in oral sex than were those with more liberal views.
- Among both males and females, teens were more likely to report that they had received oral sex than had given it. White females were the only subgroup that reported similar levels of giving and receiving oral sex.
- Teens who had already engaged in vaginal intercourse (non-virgins) were much more likely to have also engaged in oral or anal sex: 87% of non-virgins had engaged in oral sex compared to only 26% of virgins, and 21% of non-virgins had engaged in anal sex compared to only 1% of virgins.
- The likelihood of having engaged in oral sex increased sharply in the first six months after the initiation of vaginal intercourse. While only 26% of virgins had engaged in oral sex, 82% of respondents who reported initiating vaginal intercourse six months prior to survey reported having engaged in oral sex.
- There was little evidence of teen virgins using serial oral sex with multiple partners as a substitute for vaginal intercourse. In fact, the majority (67%) of teens who had engaged in oral but not vaginal sex had only one sexual partner in their lifetime.
- Only 6% of respondents who reported having initiated vaginal intercourse six months prior to the survey had engaged in anal sex compared to 27% of respondents who reported having initiated vaginal intercourse 3 years prior to the survey.
This study provides valuable new information on teen sexual behavior. The results show that non-coital sex is a regular part of sexual behavior for many sexually active teens. Oral and vaginal sex tend to go hand-in-hand for many teens, while anal sex is something that young people may engage in after being sexually active for awhile.
The results of this new study support previous findings on non-coital sex among adolescents. Much of the concern about teens substituting oral and anal sex for vaginal intercourse as a way to remain technical virgins likely originated from the media response to studies on the effects of virginity pledges conducted by Peter Bearman of Columbia University and Hanah Bruckner of Yale University.1 Like this new study, Bearman and Bruckner found that oral and anal sex were common sexual behaviors among teens—especially among those who had also engaged in vaginal intercourse. In addition, they found that virgins who had taken a virginity pledge were much more likely to report engaging in oral or anal sex than virgins who had not taken a virginity pledge.2 The current study did not look at whether respondents had taken a virginity pledge and therefore can neither prove nor disprove speculation that these teens in particular do use oral sex as a way to maintain their technical virginity.
These findings show that teens must learn about all types of sexual behavior. A substantial number of virgins and an overwhelming majority of sexually active teens engage in oral sex, and a large minority of teens eventually engages in anal sex. Sexuality education programs should therefore acknowledge that teens initiate a wide range of sexual activities around the same time, avoid focusing on oral and anal sex in isolation, and ensure that young people know the risks and means of protection for all types of sexual behavior.
1 For more information on Bearman and Bruckner’s studies on virginity pledges see this SIECUS Fact Sheet: http://www.siecus.org/_data/global/images/virginity_pledges.pdf
2 Peter Bearman and Hanah Bruckner, “After the Promise: The STD Consequences of Adolescent Virginity Pledges,” Journal of Adolescent Health 36.4 (2005): 271-278.