Advancing Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights
Perspectives on Sexual and Reproductive Health
Volume 42, Number 2, June 2010

Sex Redefined: The Reclassification of Oral-Genital Contact

By Jason D. Hans, Martie Gillen and Katrina Akande

CONTEXT: Although partially anecdotal, some evidence suggests that oral-genital contact is increasingly excluded from young people's notions of what behaviors constitute sex. Such a shift may have implications for STD prevention.

METHODS: In 2007, a convenience sample of 477 university students participated in a survey that included the question "Would you say you 'had sex' with someone if the most intimate behavior you engaged in was" each of 11 behaviors. Chi-square tests and independent samples t tests were used to assess gender differences, and chi-square analyses were used to compare the data with similar data collected in 1991. Predictors of beliefs concerning the classification of oral-genital contact were assessed using logistic regression analysis.

RESULTS: The majority of respondents indicated that penile-vaginal intercourse and penile-anal intercourse constitute sex (98% and 78%, respectively), but only about 20% believed the same was true of oral-genital contact. The proportion classifying oral-genital contact as sex in 2007 was about half that in 1991. This difference was consistent for both sexes and for both giving and receiving oral-genital stimulation. Responses did not vary by respondents' sexual experience or demographic characteristics.

CONCLUSIONS: Sociocultural conceptualizations of oral-genital contact have shifted in a way that may leave people who engage in this activity unmindful of its potential health risks. Sex education programs, which generally focus on penile-vaginal contact, could help STD prevention efforts by explaining the risks associated with oral-genital stimulation and the measures that can be taken to minimize those risks.




Jason D. Hans is assistant professor, and Martie Gillen and Katrina Akande are doctoral students, all in the Department of Family Studies at the University of Kentucky, Lexington.