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    Saturday, September 02, 2006

    The "Epidemic" of Oral Sex

    Usually, we reserve use of the word "epidemic" to refer to something both horrible and widespread. Like, you know, a disease. But the other way we use "epidemic", it seems, is to make something sound horrible and widespread. To arouse hysteria. To make people feel that it could be in the food they drink, the air they breathe, the water they drink. Beneath the beds of their children. Lurking in their own closets. Everywhere and anywhere. Watch out!

    For example, the "obesity epidemic". Or, the example at hand: "the oral sex epidemic".

    Tim Harford tells us about it in his recent piece, "A Cock and Bull Story":

    "Parents, brace yourselves." With those words, Oprah Winfrey introduced news of a teenage oral-sex craze in the United States. In the Atlantic Monthly, Caitlin Flanagan wrote, "The moms in my set are convinced—they're certain; they know for a fact—that all over the city, in the very best schools, in the nicest families, in the leafiest neighborhoods, 12- and 13-year-old girls are performing oral sex on as many boys as they can."

    Are they right? National statistics on teen fellatio have only recently been collected, but the trend seems to be real. Johns Hopkins University Professor Jonathan Zenilman, an expert in sexually transmitted infections (and father of former Slate intern Avi Zenilman), reports that both the adults and the teenagers who come to his clinic are engaging in much more oral sex than in 1990. For men and boys as recipients it's up from about half to 75 to 80 percent; for women and girls, it's risen from about 25 percent to 75 to 80 percent. ...

    ... even as the oral-sex epidemic rages, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that the percentage of teenage virgins has risen by more than 15 percent since the beginning of the 1990s.


    To my eye, there are a few things to be happy about:

    1. Female equality. Girls are 3 times as likely to be recipients of oral sex as they were in 1990. Boys' chances have gone up too, but only to the point where both genders are getting head at a similar rate.

    2. If Caitlin Flanagan is right (which would be a rarity, but let's give the benefit of the doubt), "putting out" is no longer the province of the poor, but a cross-class phenomenon.

    3. Teens, because of their changing sexual behaviors, are less at risk for disease!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    4. Teens, because of their changing sexual behaviors, are less at risk for unwanted pregnancy!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    5. Repeat 3 and 4 without end.

    It seems to me that there's some serious prudery underlying the use of the word "epidemic". What else could explain the objection to increasing oral sex? I personally don't understand why a parent would be particularly disturbed by their children's being engaged in oral sex, unless it's a general concern with sex or a more specific concern about their child being engaged in a sex act that's still seen, especially by older folks, as "dirty". Yes, they could get emotionally involved and then hurt. They could be used. But, frankly, no one gets out of adolescence unscathed by either of the above. Maybe not sexually, but maybe socially, maybe academically.

    Here are the circumstances wherein I object to oral sex:

    1. Obviously any time it is not consensual.

    2. Any time where one partner isn't getting it and wants it, but the other is.

    3. If it hurts and those involve don't want it to hurt.

    If your kid is smart enough to be avoiding unsafe sex in favor of oral sex, applaud her/him. Feel proud of your parenting skills. Pat yourself, and your kid, on the back. Thank his/her sex ed teacher. Thank MTV.

    I mean, WHAT'S THE PROBLEM? Oprah, why is this so scary?

    One more thing: our culture supports parental fear of sex for their children. It is considered normal and even positive to be a father who does his best to terrify anyone his daughter dates, to be a mother who cautions her daughter about the danger of expressing desire, the damage they could do to their reputation. It goes for boys too: boys who want to have sex with girls are told that they are not "respecting" them. Parents are expected to shame their children into avoiding sex. These actions are considered good parenting. Damn near everyone thinks that telling kids to WAIT WAIT WAIT is the best thing to do; some might say to mention condoms too, but very few will say, "Hey, if there's little to no risk, tell them to do what they want!" That won't be having sex for everyone because some will still want to wait and that's cool.

    Kids: if you're out there and want sex, do it, just do it safely. Oral sex is definitely safer for everyone, regardless of gender and sexual orientation. If oral and manual aren't for you, try a condom for vaginal or anal sex. And advocate for your school to offer comprehensive sex ed, starting young.

    Parents: kill the shame. Your kids will only try harder to hide it from you; they won't stay celibate forever just to get your pat on the back. Be honest about the dangers of oral sex versus vaginal or anal sex. Be honest about the options for protection from STDs and unwanted pregnancy. And advocate for your children's schools to offer comprehensive sex ed, starting young.

    Media: start covering this rise in oral sex as a success story. STOP CALLING IT AN EPIDEMIC!

    7 Comments:

    Blogger Bitch | Lab said...

    thank you thank you.

    i have been annoyed with this for i don't know how long but haven't had time to dig up some research and then point out how fucking hard it would be to even KNOW what's going on.

    not to mention if there's been a big change in the acceptablity of saying you do something, then all that might be captured in surveys is someone's willingness to say what thy're doing as opposed to lie about it 30 years ago.

    christ.

    this is one reason why I hate it when peple jumpt to conclusions based on journalism, without thinking through the way the media sensationalizes.

    and the criticisms of the epidemic thing is spot on.

    I am going to look up an article that criticizes claims about the so called obesity epidemic, too. just wrong a short bit about it in fact. too lazy to look up the URL.

    9:42 PM  
    Anonymous Anonymous said...

    So I think that there's a lot of hype over oral sex and a lot of it's absurd. However, I can't agree that it's a good thing that there's more going on, or whatever.

    The studies I've seen on the amount of oral sex among straight teens do /not/ state that girls get cunnilingus just or nearly as often as boys get fellatio. They show that boys have /tried/ cunnilingus as often as girls have tried fellatio, but say nothing about how often either is performed. I'd buy it if it was claimed there were even-ish rates among adults, but most of the teen-sex stories I've heard (not the pornographic kind!) have made it sound very, very much about girls performing fellatio because the boys pressure them heavily. If there's a study that shows otherwise I'll be thrilled, but I'm not ready to celebrate just yet that young girls are now more pressured to suck cock than they are to engage in intercourse.

    Oral sex is safer for women than piv sex, but it's not STD-free, and so no, it shouldn't be celebrated for that reason either unless kids are using condoms and dental dams. It's still risky.

    6:27 PM  
    Blogger Sage said...

    I agree with all the benefits to this shift to oral sex. My only concern that I'd add to the ones you already listed, is that I think some insecure girls (and women) give head as a way to get status or popularity which sometimes backfires horribly. And I also question how much is actually reciprocated in kind.

    That's opening a can of worms, and I have lots more to say, maybe later.

    10:47 PM  
    Blogger Omnipotent Poobah said...

    I read a siebar to one of these oral sex stories and it claimed that the same thing that's causing the oral epidemic is ratcheting up anal sex too.

    Huh?

    7:28 PM  
    Blogger belledame222 said...

    o I see! well now doesn't that put the whole BJ wars in another perspective. mhm. I am sure it is just coincidence that a lot of "radicals" sound suspiciously like reactionary gatekeepers.

    i do think there is a big epidemic of rimming and flagellating going on; but you know, that is actually kind of a constant staple throughout history, really.

    3:17 AM  
    Blogger EL said...

    Obviously, I'm not a fan of gender inequality, so ... if, despite the figures, there's some huge gender disparity, then, of course, I'm not pleased with that. I don't want anyone pressured into sex acts they don't want to do either. And it's true that oral sex isn't "STD-free". But, please. The above cannot account for mainstream media's characterizing of this as an "epidemic." That's mostly what I was getting at.

    Sage, I'd love to hear more, but I understand if you don't want to keep rifling through the slimy worms. :)

    As far as anal sex going up, ummm, that makes NO sense. I somehow managed not to see that, but KIDS, come ON!!!!!

    belledame, I'm glad to hear about the rimming epidemic - a much needed one.

    5:04 PM  
    Blogger belledame222 said...

    well, yes and no...

    5:18 AM  

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