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Sex Study & Media Spin

September 26, 2005
S. Michael Craven
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This past week the Centers for Disease Control released the results of a nationwide study, Sexual Behavior and Selected Health Measures: Men and Women 15-44 Years of Age, United States 2002.

Initial reports on this study from both the Washington Post and New York Times suggest very different conclusions than the report seems to indicate. The Washington Post headline by Laura Sessions Stepp read, Study: Half of All Teens Have Had Oral Sex and the New York Times article by Tamar Lewin reported that, "According to the survey, more than half of all teenagers aged 15 to 19 have engaged in oral sex..."

Stepp writes in her article, "The findings on oral sex among teens are sure to stir debate over abstinence-only sex education. Supporters of such programs say they have resulted in young people delaying intercourse, but opponents say they also have led young people to substitute other behaviors... The new data tend to support this view, showing that nearly one in four virgin teens has engaged in oral sex."

The implication of course is that abstinence-centered education is failing to equip kids for the real world and as a result we now have an "epidemic" of oral sex among youth. This notion derives from the supposition that abstinence-centered education really says nothing about sex except to say "no." In light of such a "facile" approach to human sexuality, proponents of "safe-sex" and condom education argue that kids are resorting to oral sex out of ignorance because they think they remain "technical virgins" which is, they say, all that abstinence education emphasizes. While it is true that many teens today think that oral sex is not to be compared with intercourse this is not the result of abstinence education but rather a cultural phenomenon given great momentum by a former U.S. President.

Nonetheless, this is not at all what the report says. The report states, "At the ages 15-17, about 13 percent of males and 11 percent of females had had heterosexual oral sex but not vaginal intercourse." The report goes on to say that, "At ages 18-19, about 11 percent of males and 9 percent of females had had oral sex but not vaginal intercourse." Both the Washington Post and NY Times neglect to report the fact that in the overwhelming majority of instances oral sex is secondary to intercourse. For example among 16-year-old males, 12 percent have only had oral sex while 37 percent have had intercourse. Among 17-year-old males, 14 percent have only had oral sex and 46 percent intercourse and among 18-year-olds, 10 percent have only had oral sex and 62 percent intercourse. The survey reveals that nearly all teenagers who have had sexual intercourse have also had oral sex: 88 percent of the boys and 83 percent of the girls.

Oral sex, according to this study is not an alternative and growing phenomenon but rather a sexual behavior that more often than not accompanies sexually active teens who are already engaging in intercourse.

While teen sexual activity of any kind is not good news the fact is according to another study by the CDC; The National Youth Risk Behavior Survey: 1991-2003, sexual intercourse among teens has steadily decreased every year since 1991. The fact is abstinence education is working. Teens are becoming more aware, not less, of the risks associated with any pre-marital sexual activity. According to this same report, even condom use has increased from 46.2 percent in 1991 to 63 percent in 2003 at a time when emphasis on condom use is being replaced by an emphasis on abstinence. These figures counter the claims of those who argue that failure to teach "safe-sex" will decrease condom use and increase risks among teens. The message of waiting until marriage is gaining ground despite a media culture that is determined to advance the alternative.

Granted, there is still much work to be done but we must continue to promote a proper and natural view of sex that encourages abstinence until marriage and not return to the days of encouraging sex among teens as long as it is "safe." The evidence indicates that progress is, in fact, being made among youth.

Perhaps a more interesting revelation from this report are the figures regarding homosexuality. According to the study, "the proportion of men who had only male sexual partners in the last 12 months was 1.6 percent" and only "about 2.3 percent of men and 1.3 percent of women described themselves as homosexual." Women who reported at least one female sexual partner in the last twelve months represented 4.4 percent and men with at least one male partner in the last twelve months represented 2.9 percent. Interestingly, about 1.8 percent of men and 2.8 percent of women described themselves as "bi-sexual," which I find strange in light of the claim that homosexuality is a genetic predisposition when a self-professed bi-sexual can choose their orientation on any given day.

Clearly, these figures indicate once again that the homosexual population remains extremely small and they do not represent a monolithic group. There is clearly periodic experimentation and abandonment of homosexual acts further dismissing the claim that homosexual behavior is innate and immutable. As has been the case throughout history; homosexual behavior is a cultural [and not biological] phenomenon that is linked to those societies who are in the progress of modifying their sexual ethics from absolute monogamy within marriage to more libertine practices. In every instance without exception this shift in sexual ethics has served to destabilize family and subsequently the society as a whole.

© S. Michael Craven, 2005

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Response from : Dawn  

July 5, 2006 6:39 PM

Dear Michael Craven,

Thank you so much for your well-written article addressing sexual behavior as copied below.

What I liked about your article is that you did address the cultural environment without attacking those who struggle with their sexuality. This is so important.

One of the areas that I address in my talks is cultural influences and the impact on young people. So I notice material that is truthful, sensitive and compassionate and I keep copies to quote from.

I am writing a secular book about my experience growing up with a father who practiced homosexuality and who later died of AIDS. As well, I have recently written an article, 'Same-Sex Marriage: Have the Best Interests of Children Been Considered' that has since gone across North America. There have been some media opportunities and speaking engagements. More are likely this fall and spring.

You are welcome to get in touch with me if you have any comments or questions.

Warmest regards,



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