Wednesday, April 06, 2005

Another study that blows

By now, many of you will have seen the following headline, or some variation thereof, screaming from the front page of your favourite news source: Teens view oral sex as safer choice.

In a nutshell, researchers at the University of California, San Francisco have discovered that young teenagers are opting for oral sex as a strategy to reduce the risk of disease transmission, unplanned pregnancy, and peer disapproval. Sure, makes sense, right?

But something about the study has troubled me since I first happened across it yesterday morning. Reading the article again, I realized that nowhere in the piece is the term oral sex actually defined. Curious, no? As I progressed from feeling troubled to mildly suspicious, I commenced the following investigation.

First, I read over twenty different articles about the study published in reputable national newspapers. No definition. I then turned to articles about the study that have appeared in scientific and medical publications. Still nothing.

Finally I went to the source, the April issue of Pediatrics, whereupon I discovered the following:

1. The authors of the study, who account for the aims of their project and its methodological approach with the customary rigour, do not define the term “oral sex.” From the study:

“(A)lthough vaginal sex was defined explicitly on the survey, oral sex was not well defined and thus we cannot be sure which behaviors were included in participants' understanding of oral sex.”

(Blinks.) Are you kidding me?!

2. Though the authors assert that “there were no gender differences in adolescents’ sexual experiences or intentions”, they briefly note two “significant interactions between gender and outcome estimates”:

(a) "Male adolescents believed that one's relationship is more likely to get better from having vaginal than oral sex than did female adolescents"; and
(b) "Female adolescents believed that pleasure was more likely to occur from vaginal sex than oral sex".

Pray, how to account for these variables? Allow me to speculate.

Had the study’s authors bothered to define their terms, and, more importantly, had they defined them to their interview subjects, they may have realized that there are, in fact, two broad categories of oral sex: (a) fellatio, and (b) cunnilingus.

Consequently, had their interview questions been reformulated to ask: “Have you ever engaged in fellatio?” or, “Do you intend to receive cunnilingus in the next six months?”, they may also have discovered that, among teenagers, the former is typically more prevalent than the latter. Which just might explain the responses noted above.

What I suspect all of this really means is that, throughout the United States and, presumably, Canada, a distressing number of young girls are not getting off. Worse, their experience of their own sexuality is being limited to furtively blowing their boyfriends and others without receiving the same consideration in return. Forgive the pun, but this totally sucks.

Don’t get me wrong: fellatio is a wonderful activity – at its best, an artform – one that can provide great pleasure to the giver as well as the receiver. But it galls me to think that a generation of girls – and boys, for that matter – may reach adulthood without any experiential understanding of the principle of sexual mutuality.

Didn’t we just have a sexual revolution? Or has it passed its expiry date? (Sighs.) I'll go get my lighter...


sarah said...

i agree that these are very troubling times, and i am very concerned for the young ladies. i feel like a disaster having come from my own messed up issues with sexuality and boys in particular, i am afraid to imagine what this generation of girls and boys will turn into....

d said...

I read a similar survey before, and saw it on the Oprah show a couple of years ago. What I found so weird was that a. it was only the boys getting off, and b. girls thought their vaginas were gross, and therefore, why would they expect some guy to go down on them? As we have talked about before, I think this all goes back to porn movies and brazilian waxes.