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FIRST-PERSON: There’s good news and bad news about teenage sex

McMINNVILLE, Ore. (BP)–The good news: Sexual intercourse among teenagers is on the decline. The bad news: Many teens are turning to oral sex as an alternative to copulation.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta recently released the results of a survey that indicate sexual intercourse among teenagers has declined 14 percent since 1995. However, many health experts are pointing out the survey did not ask any questions about oral sex, according to a report that appeared in the Sydney Morning Herald.

The story, also reveals that a survey by the condom manufacturer Ansell found that one-third of teenage girls say oral sex is not sex, and that 20 percent say they have had oral sex by age 15, and half by age 17. Health officials say that in some teen circles oral sex is almost obligatory, like a goodnight kiss.

One reason health experts give for the dramatic shift in teen sexual behavior is the incorrect notion that oral sex is safer than intercourse. A majority of teenagers do not realize that virtually every sexually transmitted disease can be spread orally. Another factor, highlighted in the Ansell study is that many teens do not equate oral sex with sexual intercourse.

It would indeed be foolish to cite a single factor as responsible for the teenage population’s current understanding of oral sex. A variety of culprits — music, movies, the Internet, magazines — contribute to the present state of teenage ignorance. However, only the most naive partisan politico could deny some relationship — if even incidental — between Bill Clinton’s oral escapades with Monica Lewinsky and the emerging teen trend.

In January of 1998 Clinton’s presidency was speeding along nicely. The nation was in the economic fast lane and polls indicated that everyone, with the possible exception of the most rancid Republicans, loved Bill. However, the nation’s bliss was abruptly interrupted by the speed bump of sexual scandal. Thanks to the impropriety of the former president the subject of oral sex — to the chagrin of most parents — was interjected into the nation’s collective conversation.

Clinton’s behavior alone cannot be blamed for steering teens and future teens down the road to sexual perdition. However, his insistence that he did not have “sexual relations with that woman, Miss Lewinsky,” stirred more public debate than did the discussion over the definition of the word “is.”

Many Clinton administration insiders maintain that when the former president declared that he did not have sexual relations with Lewinsky, in his mind he was not lying. He truly did not — and perhaps does not — equate oral sex with intercourse. Prior to Monica-gate few would have argued the point. However, it seems that Clinton’s perspective on all matters sexual have been embraced by many of today’s teens.

The American public must share some of the culpability concerning the lowering of sexual standards among America’s teens. At the height of the Lewinsky scandal Clinton’s approval ratings remained amazingly high. The nation’s collective moral outrage was missing in action. The message was clear: The economy is good so who gives a rip what the President thinks about sex with someone other than his wife, much less what he thinks about oral sex.

The dumbing down of teenage sexual mores is one aspect of Clinton’s presidential legacy that is only now starting to emerge. However, the former president does not bear the responsibility alone. The nation’s collective ambivalence over his degrading dalliance certainly contributed to the current teenage sexual state of affairs.

Teenagers while ignorant (in the classic sense of the word) are not dumb. There is no doubt in my mind that they have been absorbing all of the messages American society sends concerning sex and forming opinions. One of which is that oral sex is not really sex, and that it is a safe alternative to intercourse. In this case, ignorance is not bliss — it is downright dangerous.
Boggs, whose column appears in Baptist Press each week, is pastor of Valley Baptist Church, McMinnville, Ore.

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  • Kelly Boggs