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Opinion

Camurati: STDs should remind teens that oral sex is still sex

A billboard in downtown Baltimore, is shown Thursday,

A billboard in downtown Baltimore, is shown Thursday, July 3, 1997, displays a message of abstinence towards teen sex. Credit: AP, 1997

It may not get you pregnant, but it's still not risk-free.

More than two-thirds of today's kids have engaged in oral sex, and the research suggests that teens don’t know the health risks. They see it as a safer course of action than vaginal intercourse.

A recent study by the Centers for Disease Control of nearly 10,000 men and women ages 15 to 24 revealed that while teenage sexual conduct has decreased and condom use has increased since the late '80s, the rate of sexually transmitted infections hasn't budged.

Unlike a typical interview, participants entered answers into a computer and did not have to disclose the intimate details of their personal lives to an unfamiliar adult. That significantly increases the chance that teens gave real information.

The percentages were fairly equal for boys and girls ages 15 to 19 across the board — 49 percent of boys admitted to giving or receiving oral sex, compared with 48 percent of girls. Similarly, 44 percent of boys have engaged in vaginal sex, while 47 percent of girls said they had.

About half of all the newly diagnosed STIs in 2010 were in that 15 to 24 age group. The increase in condom use is a great start, but if America's teenagers think oral sex can't do any harm, something needs to be done.

We harp on unwed pregnancies and underage parents most every day, but few touch the subject of any other potential risks. Some curriculums don't allow any lesson plan beyond abstinence-only, and those southern areas tend to have higher rates of teen pregnancy and STIs.

Mississippi constantly tops the list of teen pregnancies with a rate of 35.2 per 1,000 women, 15 points above the national average. The state is also in the middle of a sex education studies struggle after years of abstinence-only education. Louisiana is up there as well with a rate of 27.1 while the new tax-funded voucher schools will have Christian-based textbooks and lesson plans this fall, leaving little room for any discussion of sex beyond “not until you’re married.”

Sex is sex — no matter what word you put before it, the same general risks apply. You can get STIs or HIV from oral sex the same as vaginal sex. Herpes doesn’t go away and Chlamydia can damage reproductive organs. It only takes one exposure to change your life forever.

Pictured above: A billboard in downtown Baltimore displays a message of abstinence towards teen sex.

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