Teenagers often suffer emotional consequences from having sex, even when it's "only" oral sex, a study published on Monday suggests.
Researchers at the University of California San Francisco found that up to one-half of the sexually active teenagers in their study said they'd ever felt "used," guilty or regretful after having sex.
Though such feelings were less common among teens who'd only had oral sex, about one-third reported some type of negative consequence.
Dr Sonya S Brady and Bonnie L Halpern-Felsher report the findings in the journal Pediatrics.
The study, according to the researchers, suggests that parents should be sure to talk with their kids about the potential negative effects of having oral sex, not only intercourse.
"When parents and teens talk about the consequences of having 'sex,' they may not take the time to define what sex is," Brady and Halpern-Felsher noted in comments to Reuters Health.
"It is important for parents to help teens understand that having oral sex may result in social, emotional and physical health consequences -- just as having vaginal sex may result in these consequences."
In particular, the study found, girls were twice as likely as boys to say they'd ever "felt bad about themselves" after having sex, and three times more likely to say they'd felt used.
Though the study could not look at the reasons for this difference, other studies have noted that there's pressure on girls to at once be sexually attractive yet resist having sex.
"In contrast, boys' sexuality and sexual behaviour is generally accepted," Brady and Halpern-Felsher pointed out. "Parents can play an important role in helping to eliminate this double standard by encouraging respect for women and discouraging the use of derogatory sexual terms."
The findings are based on a series of surveys given to 618 students at two public high schools, beginning in ninth grade when they were 14 years old. Of these, 275 reported having oral sex, vaginal sex or both by the spring of tenth grade.
Among the sexually active teens, those who said they'd had only oral sex were generally less likely to report negative consequences, whether physical -- pregnancy or sexually transmitted infections -- or emotional.
However, they were also less likely to report positive effects, like feeling closer to their partner or feeling good about themselves. Such positive feelings about sex were common, the study found. In fact, the teens more often reported positive effects than negative ones.
This suggests that when parents talk with their kids about sex, it might be a good idea to acknowledge the potential positive outcomes, like emotional intimacy, Brady and Halpern-Felsher note in their report. Parents could then talk about other ways to find those same feelings.