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Update on “Oral Sex is the New Goodnight Kiss”

June 2, 2009

Many of you probably read the Becky’s post about the documentary “Oral Sex is the New Goodnight Kiss”. In the article that that post was based off of, they state that “more than half of all teens 15 to 19 years old have engaged in oral sex, according to a comprehensive 2005 study by the Centers for Disease Control’s National Center for Health Statistics”. In this article and the documentary that is profiled therein they claim that this statistic is evidence of a new more “casual attitude” towards sexual encounters. But this isn’t news. At least not to anyone who’s been studying the field of human sexuality. This week while reading “The Body Project: An Intimate History of American Girls” by Joan Jacobs Brumberg, I came across this little gem.

By 1979, a California study revealed that a third of fifteen- and sixteen-year-olds, and almost half of seventeen- and eighteen-year-olds, had either given or received oral-genital stimulation. (169)

Through some detective work, I managed to find the actual data from the 2005 CDC study. They found that 55% of teens ages 15-19 had participated in oral sex. Although I don’t have the exact numbers from the 1979 study, “almost half” must be at least in the mid-40% range or higher. If we really wanted to compare these data we would also have to control for the age differences (the 2005 study goes up to age 19 while the other only goes up to 18). The data seem to support the idea that the older a teen is, the more likely they are to have had oral sex, so the difference between the 2005 study and the 1979 one may be at least partially explained by the fact that 19-year-olds are more likely to have had oral sex than teens 18 and under. In short, it seems that the number of teens engaging in oral sex has actually remained fairly stable since the late 1970s. I would venture to guess that there was some period between the 1920s and the 70s when the percent of teens engaging in this behavior was increasing much more rapidly than it is currently. That is not to say that some of the other behaviors mentioned in the article and the documentary are not increasing, just that this one statistic is not news.

If anyone is curious, here is the location of the 1979 study:
Haas, Aaron. Teenage Sexuality: A Survey of Teenage Sexual Behavior. New York: Macmillan, 1979. ISBN 0-02-548930-5.

Haas’s study was also cited in:
Newcomer, Susan F. and J. Richard Udry, “Oral Sex in an Adolescent Population,” Archives of Sexual Behavior 14.1 (February 1985): 41-6.

You can read the entire CDC study here.

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