Though he never used the words “oral sex,” Patricia M. knew that’s exactly what her 15-year-old son meant. Prompted by a suggestive scene on television, her son turned to his parents with an earnest expression. “You can catch all kinds of diseases that way,” Patricia recalls him saying.
As she and her husband listened to the facts their child shared, gleaned from his hours of school-based sex education classes, they learned an important lesson. “The fact that he is open about it helps with my concerns,” says Patricia, who has another son, age 11. “We set no boundaries when it comes to talking about sex.”
Despite the open communications in her own home, she’s concerned about stories she hears on the news and from other parents that indicate a growing acceptance of oral sex among curious teens who want to avoid pregnancy. “It’s a topic I’m going to have to pay as much attention to as intercourse,” she says. “There’s a lot to worry about.”
Dangers of Oral Sex
As adolescents become more sexually aware and active, they may consider experimenting with oral sex. Of teens who engage in oral sex, some may not use barrier protection to prevent against sexually transmitted infections. Oral sex comes with its own set of dangers. Both viral and bacterial sexually transmitted infections (STIs) can be transmitted through oral sex, including:
Tips for Parents
Still, talking about sex in general, and oral sex in particular, makes many parents nervous. Creating an environment in which all family members feel comfortable expressing their thoughts and asking questions takes more than a one-time effort—it also takes time. Experts recommend that parents build open, honest relationships with their children so that talking about sex can grow out of natural curiosity and trust.
From using the ambiguities of popular culture as conversation-starters to sharing their own experiences, caring adults can find many effective ways to communicate with their children about all kinds of critical issues and decisions, including sex. Expert advice includes:
- Be an askable parent. Tell your children it’s natural for them to have questions about sex.
- Listen more than you talk. Encourage your children to share their concerns and experiences.
- Look for teachable moments. “Watch television shows with teens, see what they are reading in magazines—and that becomes a forum for communications,” says Jennifer Manlove, senior research associate for Child Trends, a nonprofit research center in Washington, DC.
- Answer questions simply and honestly. Present the facts, share your values, and direct teens to additional resources when necessary.
- Coach kids well. Help your children learn how to get themselves out of risky situations. Reinforce their right to make their own decisions and resist peer pressure.
- Stay involved. Teens need supervision—and guidance—as much as their younger siblings. Though they may not act like it, they really do crave, and listen to, their parents’ advice.