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Viewpoint: Blowing off sex education

By Jesse Klein, Senior Editorial Page Editor
Published January 17, 2013

At the 70th annual Golden Globes, the HBO series "Girls" took home some big awards, including Best Actress in a TV Comedy for Lena Dunham and Best TV Comedy. The show has been both criticized and praised for its honest portrayal of 20-something women who supposedly exemplify our generation. Most of the controversy surrounds the awkward and sometimes extremely disturbing sex scenes. While these sex scenes include weird fantasies, masturbation and jerks who only care about getting themselves off, they’re lacking in one area that seems absent from almost every television show, movie and media exposure in general: oral sex and hand jobs. While oral sex has made appearances in "Game of Thrones" and in one scene of "Girls," sexual acts beyond vaginal intercourse are rarely seen or insinuated.

From teen dramas like "Gossip Girl" and "Glee," to reality TV shows in the "Jersey Shore" genre and even to highly respected movies, any mention of non-coital sexual activity is inexplicably left out of scripts. Even more puzzling is the leap many of these TV shows make from making out to intercourse. The fall-out-of-frame-onto-bed that usually indicates sex is only preceded by hot make-out sessions — an unrealistic jump in reality that doesn’t necessarily match up with off-screen sexual progression.

College can be one of the most promiscuous times for young adults, and with advancements in birth control, young women may have hit their sexually liberated peak. While this may point to an increase in a young person’s sex life, the age when the average person loses their virginity is actually rising. According to the Centers for Disease Control, in 1991, 54.1 percent of high school students had lost their virginity. A decade later, only 47.4 percent of high school students had done the deed.

While traditional sex may appear to be on the decline, oral sex is growing in popularity among young adults. 41 percent of females and 47 percent of males, ages 15 to 19 have participated in oral sex, which increases to 80 percent for ages 20 to 24. While vaginal intercourse decreased in the past two decades, sexually transmitted infections that can be transferred by oral sex didn’t. This points to the probability that teens are foregoing vaginal intercourse for oral sex.

Many young adults choose this type of sexual contact because they believe is it safer, both emotionally and physically. When it comes to casual sexual encounters, many young people feel more comfortable having oral sex or fondling than having intercourse. In 2002, 22 percent of females and 24 percent of males reported having oral sex but had not lost their virginity. In 2011, 49 percent of non-Hispanic white females had oral sex before vaginal sex, compared to 40 percent who had oral sex after intercourse. 44 percent of non-Hispanic males had oral sex before intercourse, compared with 36 percent of males that had oral sex after intercourse.

A noteworthy exception in this trend is found in black and Hispanic adults, where a majority of adults between the ages of 15 and 24 had intercourse before oral sex.

There wasn’t even data on hand jobs from the CDC. Though it’s discussed often in social environments, research and media exposure of this part of our generation’s sex life is completely lacking.

This change in sexual progression demonstrates a changing mentality for Millennials. While virginity has been put on a pedestal only to be given to someone special, oral sex and fondling has become a socially acceptable alternative. However, this was not the case in past decades. For many older generations, oral sex was considered more intimate than vaginal sex.

It’s surprising that a large part of a young adult’s sex life has been left out media, and especially surprising that it lacks mention in research, statistics and education. In my high school’s sex ed classes, vaginal intercourse was repeatedly expressed to be an important decision to be made between partners. The physical and emotional consequences of oral sex and other types of “non-traditional” sex were never discussed and still aren’t today.

The lack of communication about these topics increases the perception that anything that isn’t intercourse isn’t important, special or possibly damaging. I learned about the STDs that could be transferred from vaginal sex but none from oral sex. We all heard statistics that most people who lose their virginity before 18 regret not waiting. But other sexual acts were never discussed. Even though these subjects are freely expressed in any college dorm room, there's still a taboo surrounding them outside of the gossip sphere.

Jesse Klein is a senior editorial page editor.


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