An economist tries to explain the rise in oral sex among teenagers. Thankfully he doesn’t get all Caitlin Flanagan on us, but his hypotheses aren’t exactly ground-breaking:
Schoolchildren are now bombarded with information about the risks of sex, particularly HIV/AIDS. Oral sex can be safer than penetrative sex: It dramatically reduces the risk of contracting HIV and reduces the effects of some other sexually transmitted infections (although you can still pick up herpes, warts, and thrush). An infection that might have made a girl infertile instead gives her a sore throat.
The rest is basic economics. When the price of Coca-Cola rises, rational cola-lovers drink more Pepsi. When the price of penetrative sex rises, rational teenagers seek substitutes. Perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised that 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. Those who are still having sex have switched to using birth-control methods that will also protect them from sexually transmitted infections. Use of the contraceptive pill is down by nearly a fifth, but use of condoms is up by more than a third. The oral-sex epidemic is a rational response to a rise in the price of the alternative.
Good answers, certainly, even if they’re fairly obvious. I’d also point to the greater social discussion and acceptance of oral sex as a valid and “normal” part of human sexuality. While I’m not a proponent of teenage oral sex, I do think it’s a positive thing that oral sex in general is being demystified, and that women receiving oral sex is becoming almost a de rigeur part of hetero sex. That certainly influences teenage behavior, as oral sex is now seen as a valid sexual option, and one that avoids pregnancy and lowers the possibility of contracting an STI.
It’s also heartening to see that condom use is up by more than a third. The stat about birth control pill use being down initially made me nervous, but then I remembered that I don’t even use the pill anymore — I’m on a different kind of hormonal birth control (the nuva ring, and it’s fabulous), and there are several other non-pill options available for women. I’m hoping that it’s the wider availability of non-bill birth control methods that accounts for lower pill usage.
And for the record, I think that Slate’s headline on this one went too far. Gross.
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