Friday, November 12, 2010

Oral Sex at the Bar Mitzvah? Mostly An Adult Myth

I just completed two mornings of training with future Rabbis and Cantors.

One of the topics included adolescent sexuality education and what teens needed from their religious communities. I asked the group had they ever heard about concerns about middle school students and oral sex at Bar/Bat Mitzvah celebrations and all of them had.

I've long argued in my books (see side bar to order my book, Beyond the Big Talk) that oral sex in the middle school is largely NOT happening. I've said that I can remember the name of the girl in the eighth grade who was offering oral sex, and that perhaps today there might be a few more, but my sense from working with teens around the country is that most middle schoolers are still worrying about kissing and that oral sex scandals in middle schools is largely a media myth.

There's new national probability data from Indiana University that backs that up. The new IU study finds that only 13% of 14 and 15 year old boys had received oral sex, matching pretty closely the 12% of girls those ages who say they offer it. One in ten girls that age say that they have received oral sex, also challenging the myth that girls are always the ones performing, boys receiving.

The numbers jump once teens are juniors and seniors in high school, but still only a minority of teens ages 16 and 17 have had oral sex ever. One third of the boys and 23% of the girls had received oral sex; one quarter of the girls and 20% of the boys had offered it. Few had had same sex partners. Teenagers are just not as sexually experienced as most adults believe.

Surely we need to be concerned about the youngest teens engaging in intimate sexual behaviors with a partner, and these studies do not look at the context of the relationships. Young people need our guidance and support to make healthy sexually decisions and set sexual limits. Parents, schools, and faith based organizations all play an important role. But, these numbers indicate that we need to be much more cautious in accepting media stories or rumors designed to alarm us that don't reflect actual young people's lives.


Anonymous said...

I'm betting any girls offering oral sex during middle school were sexually abused much earlier.

figleaf said...

Thanks so much for this post, Deb! I just wrote a post picking up your point that "peer pressure" imposed by adults has an impact on children's expectations.

Just like the old quip about Volvo car owners that goes "There are two things all Volvo owners believe: first, that all Volvos are 100% reliable; second, that theirs is the only exception" there are two things most college students know: First, that everyone in college has had sex; second, that they're the only exception. (Clue: expectations notwithstanding a very significant number of college students are still virgins in their sophomore year.)

The important question to ask is not just where do college students get that notion but when did they first get it? My guess? Since breathless adult-driven stories about non-existent middle-school events like "bracelet parties" and routine fellatio have been around for decades I suspect stories about what "everybody is doing" start soaking in fairly early in middle school.

Time for grownups to take a little responsibility for that.

Same for notions that it's only girls offering and boys receiving unreciprocated oral sex. I don't have to be at all thrilled at the prospect of even very small numbers of sixth-graders in sexual situation to feel it's nevertheless critical to get the word out that to the extent it happens it's neither unilateral nor unreciprocated nor even particularly gendered.

If grownups are going to go around setting expectations we might as well set positive ones: you don't have to start in middle school, and when you finally do, reciprocation is to be expected.

Thanks again!


Debra W. Haffner said...

Anonymous, there is definitely research on abuse and early ages of PVI. I haven't seen any on oral sex.
Figleaf, nice to have you back! Your comments are spot on.

Briar-Rose said...

It's not just the percentages of those giving and receiving oral sex, but how often they are engaging in it. When you say 13 percent of boys have received it, my bet is on their receiving it far more often than any random selection of girls who have EVER received it, are receiving it. Girls are expected to perform oral sex, whereas boys do it if they really want to.
Girls also have a tendency to offer it because they were forced to perform it earlier in their lives.

Anonymous said...

A friend of mine teaches at a middle school. It is a common occurrence (once a week) that she finds students in the bathroom engaging in oral sex. Now, I don't know if maybe it's always the same kids?? However, it seems that the response is lack of awareness of how much deeper/heavier an act it is than kissing. Why are our teens not being taught?! I grew up in a conservative home and was never taught about oral sex, under the belief that I "shouldn't know until I'm married." I had oral sex in high school, but still considered myself a virgin and did not realize the gravity of my promiscuity. I will not make the same mistake with my two children. Thanks to your books, I am already teaching my oldest (almost 2) about his body in a healthy, appropriate, open way. My parents were actually the ones who referred me to your books, and I am so thankful that they are more open-minded now about how sex needs to be taught! Thank you for your books!