The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention today released the results of a survey on oral sex prevalence among young Americans conducted between 2007 and 2010.
Over 6,000 interviewees aged 15-24 were involved in the survey, which found that sexual intercourse among teens had continued its 20-year decline, falling from 51% in 1988 to 43% during the survey period.
Despite this, the rate of sexually transmitted diseases did not show a similar decrease. In fact, the report claims half of all new STDs in 2010 occurred in the 15-24 age group.
The study appears to attribute this to the misperception that oral sex is less risky than vaginal-penile intercourse. As many as one in four American teens engages in oral sex before moving forward to vaginal sex.
"Research suggests that adolescents perceive fewer health-related risks for oral sex compared with vaginal intercourse," the study's authors write. "However, young people, particularly those who have oral sex before their first vaginal intercourse, may still be placing themselves at risk of STIs or HIV before they are ever at risk of pregnancy."
With studies showing an increase in oral cancers associated with the human papillomavirus, and gonorrhea alarming doctors with its resistance to antibiotics, experts are concerned that education is not keeping up with the times.
"I would say that the risk of STD transmission through oral sex is underappreciated and underestimated," Dr. Christopher Hurt of the University of North Carolina School of Medicine's infectious disease division told US News and World Report. "As part of sex education programs, kids need to be made aware of that fact: that oral sex is not a completely risk-free activity."