Question: To our dismay, we recently discovered (by stumbling across a journal entry) that our daughter has been involved in oral sex. Even more shocking was the answer we got when we confronted her about it: she argued that oral sex isn’t really sex! She says it’s "safer" than vaginal intercourse. She even claims that she’s still a virgin! What’s your response? 

Answer: 

Unfortunately, your daughter’s ideas on the subject aren’t unusual. In the midst of all the media hype surrounding the high-profile political scandals of the 1990s, it became abundantly clear that a surprising number of people in contemporary society don’t perceive oral sex as sex. To make things worse, this view is often accompanied by a dangerously mistaken belief that it isn’t particularly risky. 

Common belief 

This belief is especially common among teenagers. In a study of twelve- to fifteen-year-olds, one in six reported having tried oral sex, and many of these denied ever having vaginal intercourse. A more recent study from the National Center for Health Statistics found that more than fifty per cent of the fifteen- to nineteen-year-olds surveyed had engaged in some form of oral sex (giving, receiving or both). Not surprisingly, alcohol and drug use increase the likelihood that a teenager will try oral sex.

Like your daughter, some adolescent girls who practice oral sex consider themselves to be virgins or sexually abstinent. As a matter of fact, healthcare providers and counsellors who are attempting to obtain an accurate sexual history from teenagers must routinely ask not only "Are you sexually active?" but also "Are you giving or receiving oral sex?" It’s not uncommon for a teen or young adult to answer "no" to the first question and "yes" to the second. Even significant numbers of college students – as many as one in three according to one study – consider the practice of oral sex to be compatible with a sexually abstinent lifestyle.

Where to draw the line

This idea is both emotionally and morally naïve. As a Christian organization that draws its beliefs about human sexuality from the Bible, Focus on the Family Canada is committed to the perspective that virginity is a matter of both the body and the mind. That’s why we recommend that dating couples draw the line at holding hands, hugging and light kissing and look for creative nonsexual ways to show their feelings. Biblically speaking, premarital sexual purity entails a lifestyle that refrains from any and all sexual contact that seeks to arouse. "I charge you, O daughters of Jerusalem," says the writer of Song of Songs, "Do not stir up nor awaken love until it pleases" (i.e., "until the appropriate time"). Jesus takes this a step further in Matthew 5:28 by placing lustful thoughts on the same level with adulterous behaviour. Given that context, it's impossible to see how two unmarried people could engage in oral sex while simultaneously maintaining a proper concern for the purity of their hearts and minds. 

Medical facts

The view that oral sex is risk-free may also be medically uninformed. While it’s true that pregnancy will not result from oral sex, a number of sexually transmitted infections can be transmitted through oral-genital contact, including syphilis, gonorrhea, herpes simplex virus, human papillomavirus (HPV), chlamydia and even HIV. The potential consequences can range from a sore throat (from gonorrhea) or hoarseness (HPV) to serious systemic illness (syphilis) and even death (HIV/AIDS). Estimates of the number of HIV cases that result from oral sex range from one to seven per cent. 

Discuss all risks and dangers

We would strongly advise you to discuss all of the risks and dangers associated with oral sex – the moral, emotional and spiritual as well as the physical – with your daughter at the earliest opportunity. If you need help in coming up with a plan or advice about the most effective way of broaching the subject, we’d like to invite you to call and speak with a member of Focus on the Family Canada’s counselling department. Our counsellors are available to speak with you Monday through Friday between 8 a.m. and 4 p.m. Pacific time at 1.800.661.9800. They’d be pleased to assist you in any way they can.

Excerpted from The Complete Book of Baby and Child Care published by Tyndale House Publishers. © 1997, 2007 Focus on the Family.

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