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Teen Scene

Costly Misinformation

Tuesday, April 12, 2005; Page HE03

Teens considering sexual activity are more likely to engage in oral sex than in intercourse because they view the former as safer and more acceptable to their peers and more consistent with their own values, according to a study in the journal Pediatrics. But many of the ethnically diverse teens -- 580 ninth-graders in two California public high schools -- underestimated related risks, found researchers from the University of California at San Francisco. About 20 percent, both boys and girls, said they had engaged in oral sex, compared with about 14 percent who said they'd experienced vaginal sex.

Misinformed on Risks Some students incorrectly believed oral sex posed no risk of sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). Fourteen percent said there was no chance of getting chlamydia from oral sex; 13 percent said there was no risk of contracting HIV from oral sex. While STD transmission rates are somewhat lower for oral sex than vaginal sex, the researchers note that oral sex is not risk-free.

Prescription for Education Researchers concluded that it "is imperative that health care providers specifically discuss oral sex" with students before they enter high school. Doctors and school nurses, they said, often don't broach the topic because most clinical guidelines do not mention it specifically. The researchers conceded that some limitations of the study may have skewed their findings: For example, participation was limited to students who had parental consent. And since oral sex wasn't defined, some teens may have confused the term with French kissing or other intimate acts.

Leslie Walker, the director of adolescent medicine and an associate professor of pediatrics at Georgetown University Medical Center, speculated that some parents may be as surprised as their children to learn that oral sex can be harmful. Parents need to be better informed, Walker said, "on what the risks are and what kids are doing."

-- Rebecca Adams

© 2005 The Washington Post Company


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