Oral Sex Experiences Among American Men and Women

The National Health and Social Life Survey (Laumann et al., 1994) questioned men and women of different ethnic, educational, and religious backgrounds to compare their experiences of oral sex. The findings are summarized in ■ Table 8.6. In general, White Americans (both men and women) have the highest level of experience with oral sex, followed by Hispanic Americans; African Americans have the lowest rate of oral sex. However, socioeconomic level is more important than race. A study com­paring African American and White American men of matched socioeconomic status found similar rates of oral sex experience (Samuels, 1997).

■ TABLE 8.6 Oral Sex Experiences From the National Health

and Social Life Survey

Performed

Men

Oral Sex (%) Women

Received

Men

Oral Sex (%)a Women

Race

White

81

75

81

78

African American

51

34

66

49

Hispanic american

71

60

73

64

Education

Less Than High School

59

41

61

50

High School Graduate

75

60

77

67

Any College

81

78

84

82

Religion

Conservative protestant

67

56

70

65

Other protestant

82

74

83

77

Catholic

82

74

82

77

Other or None

79

78

83

83

aRounded to nearest percentage point. SOURCE: Laumann et al. (1994, p. 141).

Sexual Behaviors

Some people have qualms about oral-genital stimulation. They may believe that their own or the partner’s genitals are unattractive. Although routine, thorough washing of the genitals with soap and water is adequate for cleanliness, some people think the genitals are unsanitary because they are close to the urinary opening and anus. Despite these negative attitudes, oral-genital contact is quite common and has become even more so in the last 15 years (Herbenick et al., 2010b). The mean­ing and role of oral-genital sex have also changed greatly over time. For example, women born before 1950 almost never experienced oral sex in high school or before marriage, and oral sex occurred after the couple had been having intercourse for some time. Currently, most adults believe that oral sex is more intimate than inter­course, whereas most teens and young adults believe the opposite (Chambers, 2007; Gelperin, 2005). Furthermore, research indicates that young people who have had sexual intercourse are as likely to have had oral sex (De Rosa et al., 2010). A study of 15- to 19-year-olds found that about 55% of teenagers have had oral sex—5% more than have had sexual intercourse (Duberstein et al., 2008). Some research even indicates that young people do not consider oral sex to be "sex." A survey that asked,

"Would you say you ‘had sex’ with someone if you engaged in______ " found that only

20% believed this was true if they had oral sex. However, 98% agreed that they had sex if they had penile-vaginal intercourse, and 78% agreed they had sex if they had anal intercourse (Hans et al., 2010). Does this mean that "sex" only happens if a penis is put inside another’s body?

Some individuals may engage in oral sex instead of intercourse because they believe they cannot contract HIV (the virus that causes AIDS) through oral sex. Although the risk of transmitting HIV through oral-genital contact is low, only monogamous part­ners who are both free of the virus are completely safe when engaging in such behavior. Because oral-genital contact involves an exchange of bodily fluids, it does pose the risk of transmitting or contracting HIV. This virus can enter the bloodstream through small breaks in the skin of the mouth or genitals. In addition, oral cancers can be caused by the human papillomavirus (HPV), also a sexually transmitted infection. The risk increases with the more oral sex partners an individual has (Girshman, 2011). (We discuss HIV and HPV extensively in Chapter 15). •