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Despite the risks of infection, unprotected oral sex is common among adolescents

Yale University : 07 May, 2003  (New Product)
Adolescents report high rates of oral sex, more oral sex partners than intercourse partners, and infrequent use of protection from sexually transmitted infections during oral sex, a group of Yale researchers has found.
The study published in the May issue of the Journal of Pediatric Psychology examined social factors that may influence adolescents' decisions about sexual behavior and reports that the rate of STIs among adolescents is increasing at an unprecedented pace.

More than three million American teenagers become infected with one or more STIs each year, including both bacterial infections, such as gonorrhea and chlamydia, and viral infections, such as herpes and HIV. All of these can be transmitted during oral sex, although many individuals are unaware of these risks.

The senior author, Mitchell Prinstein, assistant professor of psychology and director of clinical training, found that teenagers' sexual behavior is similar to their perceptions of their friends' behavior. He also found that adolescents associate sexual behavior with high popularity, although not necessarily with greater levels of likeability.

'Even though they may not be well liked by many of their peers, some adolescents have strong reputations of popularity,' he said. 'The results are consistent with the idea that reputations of popularity are associated with adolescent sexual behavior. It may be that adolescents' decisions to engage in sexual behavior are influenced in part by their desire to maintain or increase their levels of popularity.'

Christina Meade and Geoffrey Cohen, assistant professors of psychology, were co-authors of the study.

The participants in the study included 212 10th grade students, 86 boys and 126 girls. Forty percent of adolescents reported that they had engaged in oral sex in the past year. There were no significant differences in boys' and girls' reports of sexual behavior. The teenagers were significantly more likely to engage in oral sex as compared to sexual intercourse.

Most of the adolescents who reported engagement in oral sex indicated that they had never used STI protection. Twenty-five percent had three or more oral sex partners in the past year. A majority reported that their best friends' oral sex behavior was similar to their own oral sex behavior.

Adolescents who reported sexual activity had high levels of reputation-based popularity, but not likeability among peers; however, sex with more partners or without protection was associated with lower levels of popularity.
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