In a study released in the April edition of Pediatrics journal, one in five ninth-graders said they have had oral sex and almost one-third said they intend to try it during the next six months.
In a study released in the April edition of
Pediatrics journal, one in five ninth-graders said they have had oral
sex and almost one-third said they intend to try it during the next six
However, since publication of the article, cautions
about the study have been raised by co-founders of the True Love Waits
sexual abstinence movements and a New York Times newspaper columnist.
The published study was based on a survey of 580
ethnically diverse ninth-graders in two California public high schools.
Overall, 20 percent of those surveyed said they had engaged in oral
sex, compared to 14 percent who said they had engaged in sexual
The study concluded that teenagers view oral sex as
less risky, more common and more acceptable than intercourse.
“Given the suggestion that adolescents do not view oral sex as sex and
see oral sex as a way of preserving their virginity while still gaining
intimacy and sexual pleasure, they are likely to interpret sexual
health messages as referring to vaginal sex,” said Bonnie
Halpern-Felsher, lead author of the study and a pediatrician at the
University of California in San Francisco.
However, Richard Ross said the True Love Waits
movement has been clear about telling teenagers that sexual purity
means abstaining from all sexual activity, including oral sex. Ross is
co-founder of the Southern Baptist abstinence effort that challenges
teenagers to sign pledges that they will remain sexually pure until
“Those of us helping to guide the True Love Waits
movement never fell in the trap of focusing only on intercourse,” Ross
noted. “All our support materials challenge
teenagers to live Christ-like and pure in all ways in all relationships.
“The True Love Waits promise itself is centered
around ‘a lifetime of purity including sexual abstinence from this day
until the day I enter a biblical marriage relationship,’” said Ross,
who also is professor of student ministry at Southwestern Baptist
Church leaders and parents must avoid two extremes in dealing with teenagers’ sexuality, Ross noted.
“On the one hand, adults must not bury their heads
in the sand and, thus, miss new and potentially-destructive practices
by young people,” he said.
“On the other hand, Christians must be careful not
to accept shallow research and journalism as fact. For example, it
would be very unwise to assume middle schoole students all across the
U.S. are involved with oral sex based on the experiences of a handful
in two California schools.”
In fact, New York Times columnist David Brooks wrote
April 20 that while teenagers are displaying public hedonism with tight
clothes, “acres of exposed pelvic skin” and consumption of
sexually-provocative media, they privately are exercising more
restraint than previous generations did.
Teenage pregnancy rates have declined by about a
third during the past 15 years, and teenage birth and abortion rates
have dropped as much, Brooks added. The percentage of 15-year-olds who
have had sex has dropped significantly as well – and among
13-year-olds, the percentage has dropped even more, he continued.
The number of high school students who report having
had four or more sexual partners has declined by about a quarter,
Brooks wrote. Also, half of all high school boys now say they are
virgins, up from 39 percent in 1990.
There is very little evidence to support claims that
an epidemic of teenage oral sex is sweeping the nation – and there has
been a distinct rise in the number of teenagers who say casual sex is
wrong, Brooks wrote in his column.
“When you actually look at the intimate life of
America’s youth, you find this heterodoxical pattern: People can seem
raunchy on the surface but are wholesome within, …” Brooks wrote. “In
other words, American pop culture may look trashy, but America’s social
fabric is in the middle of an amazing moment of improvement and repair.”
Teenagers are starting to realize that the extreme
sexuality they see in the movies, on television and in music videos is
merely make-believe – and that what really matters is reality, Brooks
“The reality is that we have a generation of kids
who have seen the ravages of divorce, who are more likely to respect
and listen to their parents and their ministers, who are worried about
sexually-transmitted diseases and who don’t want to mess up their
careers,” he wrote.
But for those teenagers confused about where to draw
the line on the broad scale from holding hands to intercourse, Jimmy
Hester says sexual purity in every dimension should be the goal. Hester
is a co-founder of the True Love Waits sexual abstinence campaign as
“While sexual purity certainly includes abstaining
from sexual intercourse until marriage, it is more than just setting
limits on one’s behavior,” said Hester, director of student ministry
publishing at LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist
“Sexual purity is a total commitment of sexual needs, desires, thoughts and actions to God,” he emphasized.
“A Christian view of sexuality does not ask, ‘How
far from purity can I wander before I have sinned?’ Rather, a Christian
perspective guides us toward purity and to seek it in our attitudes and
Hester warned that going beyond hugging and casual
kissing can easily begin the process of arousing desires that cannot
righteously be fulfilled outside of marriage.
He reminded persons that the challenge of remaining
sexually pure is not new, citing passages in 1 Cor. 6:18-20 and 1
Thess. 4:3-4, both of which address the issue.
“Based on these and other Scriptures, it is clear
that for Christians, the question is not ‘How far can I go?’ but rather
‘How can I best honor God?’” Hester said.
“Until you are married, the best way to honor God in
the area of sexual purity is by saying ‘no’ to sexual intercourse, oral
sex and even sexual touching. It means saying ‘no’ to a physical
relationship that causes you to be ‘turned on’ sexually. It means not
looking at pornography or pictures that feed sexual thoughts.”
Hester concluded by reminding persons that making a
commitment to sexual purity is easy, while keeping that pledge can be
However, he also reminded them that the True Love
Waits campaign provides resources, practical advice and encouragement
to help young people remain sexually pure. For more information, visit