Thank goodness CNN is on the job, letting us know that oral sex seems to be a precursor to sexual intercourse among teens. The original study by researchers at the University of California, San Francisco is available online in the Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine.
From looking at the comments that readers have posted on CNN, reactions to the report tend to fall into one of three categories . . .
1. OMG, we have to stop kids from having sex! Now it looks like we can do that by stopping them from having oral sex first.
2. Duh, what a waste of money. Kids have sex in high school. Many have oral sex first, many don't. Why is anyone paying for this research?
3. Wow, that's good to know. Let's teach them how to be safe, because they're going to do it no matter what we say. Besides. exploring your sexuality as a teen is completely natural.
The researchers themselves seem to agree with answer number 1, judging by the conclusion they draw from the study. Specifically, they say
"The first 2 years of high school may be a critical age period for adolescents' vulnerability to vaginal sex initiation via oral sex behaviors. Comprehensive evidenced-based interventions and provision of preventive services aimed toward reducing sexual risk should be expanded to include the role oral sex plays in adolescent sex behavior."
I love science and scientists as a rule, but phrases like "vulnerability to vaginal sex" give me the creeps. People aren't "vulnerable to sex," like it's a disease, a drug or a crime. Other than cases of rape, which are not the focus of this study, high school students either choose to have sex or they don't.
It sounds to me like the folks who did this particular study have a bias against sex among teens. That's OK. Everyone has a right to an opinion, but published scientific research is not the place to push an agenda, especially one as loaded and sensitive as this one.
I tend to fall into the third camp. But even if you're more like the the people who share the first or second point of view, take some comfort from the fact that sexual activity in high school tends to be safer than it is later in life. Ohio State University sociologists showed 15 years ago that high school kids have a much more restrictive set of dating rules than people in the general population have.
It turns out that kids won't usually date (or have sex with) the ex-boyfriends or ex-girlfriends of their own former partners. They won't even date the old partners of their old partners' former partners. Sorry if that seems a bit confusing, but in short, they won't date someone four relationship links away or less. Older people have fewer rules about who they will and won't date. (why there's a difference is a topic of ongoing research).
Sex among adult populations forms a small world network much like the Kevin Bacon game network of Hollywood stars. As a sexually active adult, in fact, you're only a few degrees of separation away from nearly every other sexually active adult. The point is, the chances of passing or catching a disease is very high for adults who don't practice safe sex.
High school sexual connections form chains, rather than small world networks, because of the restrictive, unspoken rules that teens tend to obey. Most teens are many links away from other sexually active teens, so diseases spread poorly and can be stopped altogether if only a few of them practice safe sex.
If there is ever a good time to experiment with mutually consensual sex, it's in high school. My advice, as a parent of a son and a daughter, is relax, accept the inevitable, and teach them how to be safe. Above all, help them to understand both the risks and the benefits of sex before they grow up and jump into the much riskier adult sex world.