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U.S. teenage boys having more sex, study finds

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -- More teen-age boys in the United States are having sex, researchers said Tuesday, but it is not yet clear whether media reports that adolescents are turning to oral sex as a "safer" substitute are true.

Two separate reports take the closest look yet at the sexual behavior of teens, and find that taboos against full sexual intercourse may have encouraged other risky sexual behaviors such as oral and anal sex.

For the first report, Gary Gates and Freya Sonenstein of the Urban Institute in Washington looked at interviews done with 1,200 boys between 15 and 19 as part of the 1988 and 1995 National Surveys of Adolescent Males.

They found that by 19, most have had sex.

"A majority of U.S. adolescent males report having engaged in genital sexual activities with females," they wrote in their report, published in the journal Family Planning Perspectives.

"Among 15-year-old males, 28 percent have had vaginal intercourse but 37 percent have had vaginal, anal or oral intercourse and 44 percent have participated in some genital sexual activity with a female," they wrote.

The older the boy, the more likely he was to have had sex, they found.

"Among 16 year olds, 47 percent have had vaginal intercourse but 62 percent have had any experience of genital sexual activity." They found that 78 percent of youths between 17 and 19 said they had some sort of sexual activity, 68 percent of them vaginal intercourse.

Worries about teen pregnancy may have encouraged youths to try other kinds of sex, Lisa Remez of the Alan Guttmacher Institute, which publishes Family Planning Perspectives and sponsors research into sexual behavior, said in a second report.

"When we, as adults, tell our children to abstain from sex, we might as well be speaking a different language," Alan Guttmacher Institute president Sara Seims said in a statement.

"This report makes it clear that our society's narrow focus in policy and research is missing a major component -- noncoital, early sexual activity among teenagers. We need to better understand what teenagers consider to be 'sex' and what they consider to be 'abstinence' so that we have a better idea of how these messages are being heard and acted upon."

Remez noted news reports about a so-called surge in oral sex among teens, including reports of oral sex parties. In most cases, it was supposedly girls giving oral sex to boys, known technically as fellatio.

"How valid are these anecdotal reports?" Remez asked. "Unless and until data to verify them become available, we have only impressions to go on and there is by no means a consensus among adolescent health professionals."

She said it would be difficult to get hard data until people overcome their squeamishness about talking about sex. One hurdle is getting parents to allow their children to be surveyed about such matters, Remez said.

"Another is a generalized fear that asking young people about sex will somehow lead them to choose to have sex," she said.

Remez, an editor at the journal, reviewed several studies that attempted to take a look at the issue and interviewed experts. Their biggest fear, she found, was that teens may not know they can get sexually transmitted diseases, including the AIDS virus, from having oral sex.

"Although there is no consensus among health professionals about whether noncoital behaviors have actually increased, many experts do believe that in this era of HIV/AIDS and abstinence promotion, many teenagers perceive oral sex as safer and less intimate than intercourse," Remez said in a statement.

Copyright 2000 Reuters. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.



RELATED STORIES:
Teen-agers took fewer risks in 1999, researchers find
June 8, 2000
Prevention helps teenagers avoid pregnancy
May 18, 2000
Study links teen drug and alcohol use with promiscuity
December 7, 1999

RELATED SITES:
The Urban Institute
The Alan Guttmacher Institute
Family Planning Perspectives
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