The latest fuss is spurred by new federal data that found that more than half of 15- to 19-year-olds have received or given oral sex. Although the study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention did not ask the particulars of these encounters, research conducted in pre-Clinton times, along with more recent studies, suggests that teens largely fall on the "it's not sex" side. (Related story: Teens define sex in new ways)
"Some adults say it is a form of sex, but kids don't really see it that way," says Natalie Fuller, 19, a sophomore at Orange Coast College in Costa Mesa, Calif.
"For most teens, the only form of sex is penetration, and anything else doesn't count. You can have oral sex and be a virgin."
Fuller was 16 when she, her brother and her mother co-wrote the book Promise You Won't Freak Out, which includes discussion of teen oral sex.
The report released last month by the CDC shows that one-quarter of teens who have not had intercourse have had oral sex. The survey questions, administered via headphones and computer for maximum anonymity, clearly defined the actions to eliminate any ambiguity about the meaning of the term "oral sex."
"The implications are that teens who define themselves as abstinent may be engaging in oral sex," says Jennifer Manlove, a senior research associate with the non-profit group Child Trends, which analyzed the federal data.