Is oral sex "sex"?
Go ahead, ask your middle schooler........................................................
Each year, I speak to hundreds of middle school and high school students in community centers, schools and churches about topics related to healthy relationships and sexual health. I always ask them the same questions as we make our way through information that is both intriguing and awkward. When I get to the oral sex question, this is how it typically goes:
First, there is silent staring… "I can’t believe she just asked us that."
Then a few begin shaking their heads, and finally someone brave says, “No….” then, the rest begin to comment, “Not really;” “No, because you can’t get pregnant;” “Well maybe…it does have the word “sex” in it….”
Clearly, they could use more information.
Many young people are brazenly casual about oral sex and don’t consider it very intimate or risky. Many adults disagree knowing that it’s risky for sexually transmitted infections, and it is pretty darn intimate given super close proximity of faces and genitals. But have you talked about any of this with your teens?
Once kids know about sex (which is usually by 5th grade), they quickly begin hearing about all sorts of other sex-related topics, and oral sex is one of the milder ones. Given the prevalence of Internet-based (porn) sex ed and the lack of honest and medically accurate school-based sex ed, make sure your middle schooler hears from you on this topic so they have the facts and they begin to understand some of the subtle issues that will help them stay healthy and empowered as they navigate their own emerging sexual development.
Define It and Give Them Control
If they’re in middle school or beyond, you can be pretty certain they’ve heard the terms blow job and oral sex, but that doesn’t mean they know what these things are. Oral sex is not phone sex, but for a 6th grader, it may be her interpretation of the term that the 7th & 8th graders giggle about. It may be challenging to tell your child that oral sex is using one’s mouth and tongue to stimulate another’s genitals, but if your tween cringes, provide reassurance that it’s something that many people reserve for mature and intimate relationships, and some people choose not to do at all. It’s also a great time to mention the absolute requirement for consent and let them know they are in control of whether they decide to “do it” or not. It’s important to explain the facts, but it also helps to take the pressure off of them and reassure them that they are in control.
Explain the Risks
Although most teens will tell you that oral sex is not “real” sex, make sure yours knows that oral sex IS sexual contact and ALL sexual contact requires protection to prevent infections.
Although oral sex can’t result in pregnancy, it absolutely carries the risk of passing sexually transmitted infections from the mouth/throat to the genitals or from the genitals to the mouth/throat. Infections that can be passed pretty easily through oral sex (giving or receiving) include herpes, gonorrhea, Chlamydia, syphilis and HPV. Frankly, the very worst cases of genital herpes are often the result of oral sex, especially in young people.
Using a barrier to prevent infections is just as important with oral sex as it is with “real” sex. A condom fits a penis and works if oral sex is being performed on a male, but what about a vulva? A condom can work there, too, if it is cut open and placed flat over the area. Easier than that, though, is something found in most kitchens - plastic wrap (as long as it’s not the microwaveable kind that has holes in it!).
If this conversation is just too much for your adolescent to handle (it can’t be too much for you to handle…remember, you’re the adult and the parent!), remind them that if they are too uncomfortable talking about and using protection, they are definitely not ready for the action.
Talk about the Reality of Male-Focused Pleasure
Getting sexual with someone should be about MUTUAL pleasure, but for teens, in particular, oral sex can be pretty one-sided, with the focus on male pleasure. Remember hearing about Rainbow Parties, where girls would each wear a different color lipstick, then have oral sex with a guy to leave their marks up his penis creating a “rainbow” of colors from all of the girls? Some of that was media hyperbole, but the concept lives on and feeds the cultural pressures on girls to pleasure guys with nothing in return and for guys to have the “trophy.”
Many girls readily admit that they give guys oral sex so they don’t have to have “real sex.” Some also admit that they feel pressured to help a guy “finish” when he’s sexually aroused. Girls need to know that just because a guy is sexually aroused, he doesn’t need to “finish” by ejaculating. Guys are perfectly capable of making themselves ejaculate through masturbation if they feel that need. Girls also need to hear that their own sexual pleasure is just as important as a guy’s and anybody who wants to get physical with her should respect that - if that’s something she wants to explore.
Most importantly, all teens, guys and girls, need to know that they should never feel pressure to do anything sexually that they aren’t totally comfortable with and frankly, excited to do. Anyone who pressures them otherwise is not worth hanging out or hooking up with.
by Dr. Melisa Holmes, Co-Founder, Girlology/Guyology