Define Your Terms, Dammit! Teens and the Emotional Consequences of Oral Sex

How do you do a study on the emotional consequences of oral sex, and not distinguish between blowjobs and muffdiving?

There’s this study by UCSF on teens and sex, focusing not on pregnancy and STDs and stuff, but on teenagers’ emotional reactions to sex. Specifically, it focuses on how teenagers react differently to intercourse and oral sex.

A lot of things about this study are interesting — including the fact (overlooked or minimized by several news sources) that overall, teens report positive consequences from sex of all kinds. But more relevantly to my rant, the study found that teens’ reactions to sex, both positive and negative, varied depending on whether they were having intercourse or oral sex. And most relevantly to my rant of all, girls who had oral sex were twice as likely as boys to feel bad about themselves, and three times as likely to feel used.

Why is this important?

Because in none of the stories I read about it (by Reuters, SF Gate, and WebMD) did they mention whether the oral sex was fellatio, cunnilingus, or both.

Which is a pretty big issue, don’t you think?

I don’t know if this is bad reporting by the media, or bad science by UCSF. But whichever it is, it’s bad.

See, I’d bet dollars to donuts that the “oral sex” we’re talking about is fellatio. A lot of blowjobs for the boys, not much muffdiving for the girls. And if I’m right — if girls are giving oral sex to boys and not getting it in return — then it’s no fucking wonder that girls feel more used than boys. They are being used.

A lot of how the news media is running with this story is “all teen sex is bad” (not what the study shows at all, really), and “parents need to warn their kids that oral sex can be as bad as intercourse” (also not what the study shows). But I’d bet you many dollars to many donuts indeed that, if you did another study comparing teenagers who had fellatio only, cunnilingus only, or both, the girls would be a lot less likely to feel used and/or bad about themselves if their oral sex lives were reciprocal.

In which case, the lesson we need to be teaching teenage girls isn’t “Sex is bad,” but “Your sexual pleasure matters as much as your partners’.”

Define Your Terms, Dammit! Teens and the Emotional Consequences of Oral Sex

8 thoughts on “Define Your Terms, Dammit! Teens and the Emotional Consequences of Oral Sex

  1. 2

    I suspect that the researchers at UCSF remembered well what happened the last time a study on oral sex hit the news – anyone else recall the controversy over the “is oral sex, having sex?” study published in JAMA in 1999? That was done with college students, not teens, but still it covered the younger folks who ‘might be having all the sex we wished we could back then, and desperately wish we could now’ (a part of why there’s such a charged reaction to even thinking about teens and sex, imho).
    As you might expect, that study found out that oral sex (exclusively fellatio, I think) wasn’t thought of as “having sex”. (Maybe because the women weren’t getting theirs?I don’t recall if it mentioned cunnilingus at all, but it’s been a while.)
    JAMA fast-tracked this article through its peer review process because it has really obvious implcations for sexual contact tracing for STDs (remember, this was still in the early days of HIV cocktail drugs, and AIDS cases were still rising). So the study was published in the midst of the Monica Lewinsky witch-hunts … and long-time editor George Lundberg was fired under Republican/conservative pressure for this. (Oh yeah, and he had also devoted an entire issue of JAMA to “alternative medicine”, so he was doubly-damned.) The moral of this cautionary tale is that I doubt that a really thoughtful study of the sexual behavior / attitudes of anyone under 30 can’t get published in this country without being seriously warped, either in the making or in the media or both. We’ll have to look to a study done elsewhere (maybe Netherlands, maybe one of the Scandinavian countries?) for that. Sigh.

  2. 4

    I can see why you’d say that, SPF, but I’m not sure you’re being entirely fair. The lead researchers in this study are both women, and UCSF is, as far as I can tell, fairly progressive and savvy about this stuff. In fact, the Reuters story quotes the researchers talking about the sexual double standard:
    “In contrast, boys’ sexuality and sexual behavior is generally accepted,” Brady and Halpern-Felsher pointed out. “Parents can play an important role in helping to eliminate this double standard by encouraging respect for women and discouraging the use of derogatory sexual terms.”
    I do think the study was sloppy in not distinguishing between fellatio and cunnilingus (although it’s still not 100% clear to me whether the problem was with the study or the media reporting of it). But documenting the existence of a double standard isn’t the same as validating it. And good, non-misogynist, well-intentioned scientists can still screw up.

  3. 5

    One thing you might find interesting is the ongoing cultural struggle around cunnilingus that has occurred in the hip hop world in the last decade.
    I could probably write a longer essay on this topic, but instead, I will just offer the contrast between two songs, “Freek-a-Leek” and “Candy Shop.”
    “Freek-a-Leek”, by Petey Pablo, came out around ’04. Here’s his take on getting fellatio:
    “I like to lay back, relax, and enjoy my time,
    let your eyes roll back and my toes curl,
    I love when you do that girl”
    But look what he has to say on cunnilingus:
    “I need a girl that I can freak wit…
    And love to get her pussy licked,
    by another bitch, cus I ain’t drunk enough to do that.”
    In contrast, check out the 50 Cent song, “Candy Shop,” which came out in ’05 and featured female artist, Olivia. It’s another ode to getting busy. (Come to think of it songs like this are really the hip hop version of porn movies with no plot, just sex. Maybe that’s why I like them.)
    50 Cent:
    “I’ll take you to the candy shop
    I’ll let you lick the lollypop
    Go ‘head girl, don’t you stop
    Keep going ’til you hit the spot (woah)
    “I’ll take you to the candy shop
    Boy one taste of what I got
    I’ll have you spending all you got
    Keep going ’til you hit the spot (woah)”
    What was my point again? Oh yeah, teen opinions are both influenced and expressed by the music they listen to. Not so long ago, in the hip hop world, fellatio was something ONLY a “freak” would do, and cunnilingus wasn’t even on the table. Now opinions seem to vary.
    Maybe it’s wishful thinking, but I think this era in which non-reciprocal oral sex is the norm (and I do think that is where we are at among teens) will eventually pass. For one thing, as girl-on-girl sexual play becomes more acceptable, guys are going to have to offer SOMETHING to be able to compete.

  4. 6

    Although this news is kind of old now, this is the first I’ve heard of the study. Which makes me wonder if it wasn’t under-reported when it came out.
    At any rate, it’s funny how the study was spun to make it sound like sex is bad for teens. Can you imagine how often the study would be mentioned by now if it had found that sex was indeed bad for teens? We’d never here the end of it.

  5. 7

    Your instincts are correct. It is taken for granted that most girls give blowjobs, and this is probably true. Blowjobs are casual. In contrast, guys who eat their girls out are fewer in number, but those that do (like myself) are committed cunnilinguists. There is nothing casual about eating pussy, and that is a major reason why men either do it habitually or don’t do it at all.

  6. 8

    It is most definately a double-standard. It goes along with how the female is looked upon after having casual sex. For the guy it’s “He got some” and for the girl it’s “she gave it up.” This is not fair, but how society has made it.

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