Don’t believe everything you hear about teenagers, sex, oral sex or prostitution

Unfortunately, this ABC/Good Morning America article opted for sensationalism rather than responsible reporting, in my opinion. In it, they discuss a filmmaker who taped teenagers talking about sex including having oral sex at young ages and stripping or having sex for money or consumer goods (what they term “casual prostitution”). However, ask most researchers who study adolescent sexuality and they’ll tell you a very different story: while yes, you can search and find teenagers who are engaging in risky sexual practices at very young ages (this is nothing new), most young teenagers are not having oral, vaginal or anal sex.

The article says : “Evidence of this casual attitude may be seen in the fact 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.”

How is this evidence of a casual attitude? There is a HUGE developmental difference between a 15 year old and a 19 year old. The only reason the CDC lumps them together is because it is a common “risk category” that they use when tracking infections among adolescents. Many 19 year olds are freshmen or sophomores in college, or out working in the world. To have oral sex as a 19 year old is a qualitatively different experience than to do so at 15 years old. And I would bet that most parents wouldn’t be nearly as worried about their adult child of 18 or 19 having oral sex as much as they would worry about their 15 year old doing so. Research suggests that far fewer 15 and 16 year olds have had oral sex. Oral sex tends to begin a little earlier than vaginal intercourse, which tends to start at roughly around 17 years old on average. Do some people start having oral or vaginal sex at younger ages? Yes. Do some start at older ages? Of course. That’s how we get an average age of 17.

Certainly, ABC/Good Morning America could have engaged in a more informed, nuanced dialogue about adolescent sexuality rather than trying to alarm parents (and policy makers?) for the sake of pageviews or viewership.

Parents: if you have a young child or teenager and would like to learn more about how to talk to them about sexuality, here are several recommended resources:
- Families Are Talking newsletters from the Sexuality and Information Council of the United States (SIECUS)
- It’s Not the Stork! (a book for children)
- From Diapers to Dating: A Parent’s Guide to Raising Sexually Healthy Children by Debra Haffner
- Beyond the Big Talk: A Parent’s Guide to Raising Sexually Healthy Teens by Debra Haffner

You can also direct your teenaged kids to teenwire.org or scarleteen.com for age and developmentally appropriate information about sexuality and sexual health.

About Dr. Debby Herbenick

Dr. Debby Herbenick

Dr. Debby Herbenick is a sex researcher at Indiana University, sexual health educator at The Kinsey Institute, columnist, and author of five books about sex and love. Learn more about her work at www.sexualhealth.indiana.edu.

  • JH

    amen sister

  • JH

    amen sister

  • C.J

    I agree with you Debby. Well Said!

  • C.J

    I agree with you Debby. Well Said!