There was no significant effect of relationship status on physical satisfaction. There were no significant between-person effects of having oral sex on experiencing a health consequence. There was no significant effect of relationship status on worrying about health. There were no significant between-person effects of having oral sex on experiencing guilt. In addition, students felt more guilt when they had sex with a non-relationship compared to relationship partner.
Negative consequences were less common than positive consequences, and were less common for oral sex than for vaginal sex. There were a number of gender differences in the relative consequences of oral compared to vaginal sex. This finding was consistent with the limited prior work on college students, and work on early adolescents that has demonstrated that oral and vaginal sex are commonly initiated around the same time, and that vaginal sex occurs after oral sex and other sexual behaviors Chambers, ; Lam et al.
Thus, these sexual behavior patterns seem similar whether initiated earlier in adolescence or later during emerging adulthood. On days that participants did have sex, however, engaging in both behaviors was most common, followed by engaging only in vaginal sex, and, least commonly, engaging only in oral sex.
This finding supports past work with younger adolescents and college students, which suggests that vaginal sex is more common than oral sex, but that both occur relatively infrequently Hensel et al. In fact, protected oral or vaginal sex carries little physical risk and, in actuality, occurs with less frequency than other behaviors that carry potential severe short-term e.
Consequences of Sexual Behavior For these college students, engaging in sexual behavior, often with a dating partner, was a largely positive experience, as students report these experiences are physically and emotionally satisfying. These findings suggest the importance of studying sexual behavior from a normative developmental perspective that considers positive consequences such as intimacy and physical pleasure as factors that contribute to normative sexuality development.
Thus, positive consequences from day-to-day sexual experiences likely contribute to subsequent sexual self-concept and sexual satisfaction. Consequences of sex differ by type of sex Consequences of sex differed by type of sexual behavior. In our study, at the within-person level, college students were less likely to report worrying about their health as a result of sex on days they had oral sex compared to days they had vaginal sex.
Thus, college students were generally experiencing both fewer positive and fewer negative consequences of oral sex than of vaginal sex. Vaginal sex may be more emotionally charged—both positively and negatively—due to its unique status as a behavior that marks the transition from abstinent to sexually active by both researchers and adolescents Byers et al.
In addition, these evaluations of sexual behaviors may influence likelihood of engaging in these behaviors in the future Vasilenko et al. As a result, oral sex may play a different role in normative sexuality development, potentially leading to less change in sense of sexual self and mental health outcomes than vaginal sex.
In the current study, for positive consequences, female adolescents were less likely to report feeling intimate with their partner and feeling physically satisfied as a result of sex on days they had oral sex compared to days they had vaginal sex, whereas the difference was smaller or in the opposite direction for male adolescents.
Thus, female adolescents may experience more intense feelings, both physical feelings like satisfaction, and relational feelings like intimacy, as a result of vaginal compared to oral sex.
For male adolescents, these two types of behaviors may be more similar experiences. In terms of negative consequences, although oral sex resulted in less worrying about health than did vaginal sex for both female and male adolescents, the difference was greater for female than for male adolescents. Because pregnancy may be experienced as a more immediate concern for female than male adolescents, vaginal sex may have more health salience for women than oral sex does.
Overall, these gender differences suggest that female adolescents may find vaginal sex more rewarding than oral sex, whereas male adolescents may find them equally rewarding.
From a normative developmental perspective, women then likely incorporate these differences in experienced consequences of vaginal vs. As a result, it is possible that female adolescents, more so than male adolescents, develop a sexual self-concept that includes greater desire for vaginal sex over only oral sex, potentially putting themselves at higher physical risk from future sexual behavior.
Our findings have several limitations that warrant caution in interpretation and suggest future directions for new research.
First, we focused on one college sample at a predominantly residential university. Findings cannot be generalized to college students at other types of institutions e. Second, given our interest in comparing oral to vaginal sex, we focused our examination to behaviors with other-sex partners. Future research should consider the consequences of different types of sex for same-sex partnerships, including oral sex, genital touching, and for men anal sex.
In addition, many lesbian, gay, and certainly bisexual individuals have sexual experiences with both same- and other-sex partners Morgan, Third, in this sample, condom use rarely occurred on oral sex days. Thus, using condoms was confounded with type of sex, which may partially explain differences in consequences. Fourth, our research focused on comparing any oral sex to vaginal sex. Future research should consider consequences of performing and receiving oral sex separately, which we did not have the power to do because of the low occurrence of performing or receiving oral sex in isolation.
Finally, future work should consider how consequences of sex predict subsequent sexual motives, future sexual behaviors including condom use, or psychological well-being and mental health. A better understanding of how positive and negative consequences predict future choices about oral and vaginal sex could help to inform messages conveyed in prevention programming aimed to help late adolescents make sexual decisions.
In summary, this study contributed to the literature on oral sex by demonstrating that the majority of college students have engaged in oral and vaginal sex at some point, but that the occurrence of these behaviors at the daily level is relatively rare. Our findings advance research on consequences of oral sex compared to vaginal sex by demonstrating that, at the within-person level, oral sex is associated with a lower likelihood of experiencing both positive and negative consequences, and that gender moderates this association.
These results contribute to our understanding of oral sex as a normative part of sexuality development, with consequences distinct from vaginal sex.
We would like to thank Jennifer Maggs, Nicole Morgan, Meg Small, and the rest of the University Life Study team for their help with study design, data collection, and data management. American College Health Association-National college health assessment: Reference group executive summary: American College Health Association; Journal of Sex Research.
Capturing life as it is lived. Annual Review of Psychology. A review of the literature between and Epidemiology and transmission dynamics of genital HPV infection. Archives of Sexual Behavior. Tobacco product use among middle and high school students —United States, and Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report. Varied behaviors and perceptions in a college population. Sexual behavior, sexual attraction, and sexual identity in the United States: Data from the — National Survey of Family Growth.
Motivations for sex and risky sexual behavior among adolescents and young adults: Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. Adolescents tell us why teens have oral sex. Journal of Adolescent Health. A review and methodological critique of two decades of research.
Factors influencing abstinence, anticipation, and delay of sex among adolescent boys in high-sexually transmitted infection prevalence communities. The disaggregation of within-person and between-person effects in longitudinal models of change. Affect and sexual behavior in the transition to university. Hooking up and sexual risk taking among college students: A health belief model perspective. Hookups and sexual regret among college women. Journal of Social Psychology. A short-term prospective study.
Prevalence and characteristics of sexual hookups among first-semester female college students. Daily mood, partner support, sexual interest, and sexual activity among adolescent women. The association between developmental assets and sexual enjoyment among emerging adults.
Oral versus vaginal sex among adolescents: Perceptions, attitudes, and behavior. Variations in coital and noncoital sexual repertoire among adolescent women.
Virginity lost, satisfaction gained? Physiological and psychological sexual satisfaction at heterosexual debut. Pluralistic ignorance and health risk behaviors: Do college students misperceive social approval for risky behaviors on campus and in media?
Journal of Applied Social Psychology. Effectiveness of condoms in preventing sexually transmitted infections. Bulletin of the World Health Organization. Female sexual subjectivity and well-being: Comparing late adolescents with different sexual experiences.
Daily diary investigation of the benefits of intimate and pleasurable sexual activity in socially anxious adults. Timing of pubertal maturation and heterosexual behavior among Hong Kong Chinese adolescents.
Predictors of hooking up sexual behaviors and emotional reactions among US college students. Noncoital sexual activities among adolescents. Adolescent first sex and subsequent mental health. American Journal of Sociology. Outcomes of sexual behaviors among sexual minority youth.
New directions for child and adolescent development: Positive and negative outcomes of sexual behaviors. Predicting first intercourse among urban early adolescent girls: The role of emotions.
Short-term prospective study of hooking up among college students.