Changing definition of sex
So, does oral sex count as sex?
That's the question University of Kentucky researchers asked nearly 500 college students in 2007. Only 20 percent of them said oral sex was sex -- which is a steep drop from the 40 percent in similar studies in 1991 and 1999-2001.
The study was of 477 college undergraduates (328 women, 149 men) enrolled in a human sexuality course at a large state university. The question on the survey was: "Would you say you 'had sex' with someone if the most intimate behavior you engaged in was..." then listed 11 behaviors. Students could answer "yes" or "no" (and couldn't skip any).
The behaviors included vaginal intercourse (98 percent say it's sex), anal sex (78 percent), oral sex (20 percent), intimate touching (9 percent) and deep kissing (6 percent).
The researchers find the news worrisome because oral sex can spread many diseases, including herpes, syphilis, gonorrhea, HPV, intestinal parasites, hepatitis A and HIV. The researchers say they worry that as college students think of oral sex less as sex and more as "messing around," they will forget that they can still catch an STD.
Why the changing perceptions?
The researchers, led by University of Kentucky assistant professor Jason D. Hans, list off possible explanations in their recently released report: Between 1990 and 2006, many schools shifted their primary sex ed focus to intercourse to confront teen pregnancy rates and the spread of STDs. Now days there's a lot more sex on television (although, not much more oral sex).
And then there's their other theory, which they are calling the "Clinton-Lewinsky Effect."
For the past several decades, there have been ever-changing definitions of sex in society. But the researchers argued that when President Bill Clinton said during a 1998 press conference that he "did not have sexual relations" with White House intern Monica Lewinsky, there was a turning point in the country's definition of sex -- and oral sex was swiftly booted out of the "sex" category in the minds of many.
Unlike respondents in the previous samples, our respondents were adolescents after the Clinton-Lewinsky era, which our comparisons of data over time suggest may have been a turning point in conceptualizations of oral-genital contact. The dramatic and sudden shift in attitudes toward oral-genital contact can therefore be termed the Clinton-Lewinsky effect.
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