High School Oral Sex Article Stirs Controversy

Is Oral Sex Really Sex? That's What Montrose High Newspaper Asks

A high school newspaper article that claims 40 percent of the students have had oral sex has stirred controversy in Montrose, Colo. The Montrose High School Chieftain published the story in its April 30 edition.

The article, written by MHS student Katherine Smith, questions whether experts and students consider oral sex as "having sex." The school paper published the column, story and information box on the subject.

Do you think an article on students' opinion of oral sex is appropriate for a high school newspaper?Yes. Teens that age are thinking and talking about it anyway.No. It is not the appropriate forum.

The story begins by citing a "survey" of Montrose high school students which determined that 60 percent of the students do not consider oral sex to be "sex."

An accompanying column, written by Smith, is even more graphic.

"A lot of times teens do not consider oral sex to be sex because they want to be able to be satisfied without losing innocence of respect," Smith wrote. "Forty percent of 274 students polled are having oral sex but not having sexual intercourse. For some reason this generation thinks that saying 'so-and-so went down on me last night' sounds a lot more innocent than 'so-and-so and I had sex last night.'"

MHS principal Richard Hagen has defended the publication and said the articles were intended to give students information informing them that oral sex is not safe.

"Unfortunately, the use of the language and the topic itself was offensive and got in the way of that message," he told the Montrose Daily Press. "I regret that it is a such a divisive issue. I regret that it offended anyone. I regret that the real issue was clouded, and I regret that we didn't handle this better."

It was unclear how the article made it into the newspaper as it was. The paper's faculty advisor did not attend a school board meeting last week to discuss the issue.

According to the Montrose School District's publications policy, "advisors will not act as censors." The policy also warns that school publications cannot distribute information that is considered obscene.

A number of parents are upset that the article was published in the high school paper.

"There was poor judgment, poor leadership and poor decisions were made," said Mark Freeman, a parent with two children attending MHS.

Another parent said the "survey" was useless and actually did more harm than good.

"The people who are least qualified and least experienced were asked their opinions and it was reported, and we gained nothing more than what we could have learned by spending a half-hour in the boy's locker room," Russ Turner told the Daily Press.

The Montrose school board said it would look into the controversy.

The debate about oral sex appeared to have been fueled with the statement by then-President Bill Clinton who told reporters that he did not have "sex" with intern Monica Lewinsky and later said that oral sex was not "sex."

He also denied having sex with Paula Jones, and offered the same argument in her case during a deposition over a lawsuit she filed.

In the Jones case, U.S. District Judge Susan Webber Wright ruled that "for the purposes of this deposition, a person engages in 'sexual relations' when the person knowingly engages in or causes contact with the genitalia, anus, groin, breast, inner thigh, or buttocks of any person with an intent to arouse or gratify the sexual desire of any person."

The editor of the Journal of the American Medical Association was fired in 1998 after publishing a study about college students' attitudes toward oral sex that coincided with President Clinton's impeachment trial. The article quoted from a 1991 Kinsey Institute report in which 59 percent of college students surveyed said that they don't consider oral sex to constitute having 'had sex.'

A 2002 survey by Ansell Healthcare, manufacturer of LifeStyles condoms, found that one-third of teenage girls said oral sex is not sex. Twenty percent of teens had oral sex by age 15, half by age 17. In some circles, oral sex is almost obligatory, like a goodnight kiss, the San Antonio Express-News reported in August. LifeStyles sells flavored condoms, designed for oral sex.

According to a survey by the Henry J. Kaiser Foundation, 20 percent of 12- to 17-year-olds believed that oral sex is safe sex. Even more -- 36 percent -- of 15- to 17-year-olds thought so.