Judy Mandelbaum

Judy Mandelbaum
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June 01
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AUGUST 16, 2010 12:28PM

The "rainbow party" myth: Is oral sex the new kissing?

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Rainbow Party 


When President Bill Clinton told a White House press conference with a straight face that “I did not have sex with that woman,” he may really have believed it. Since those days, the word has gotten around to nearly everyone that oral sex isn’t really sex. Should it surprise us that young women and girls agree?


A new report from the University of Alberta released last week reveals that oral sex represents part of “the sexual revolution of the twenty-first century” and that both sex educators and the safe sex industry have a lot of catching up to do. According to researcher Brea Malacad, "Both intercourse and oral sex were associated with mostly positive emotions overall, which suggests that most young women are engaging in these activities because they enjoy them. Based on the results of my study, there is a percentage of women (just over 30 per cent) who feel powerful when performing fellatio. Apparently some women find it empowering and believe that it can wield a lot of power."


Malacad’s study showed that 50 percent of the 181 Canadian women aged between eighteen and twenty-five she surveyed viewed oral sex as less intimate than intercourse, whereas 41 percent thought it was equally intimate, and 9 percent thought it was even more intimate than “getting it on.”


But press reports about the “objectification” of young women, combined with the Oprah-spawned urban legend of suburban “rainbow parties,” where girls wearing different shades of lipstick allegedly take turns administering blowjobs to their male guests (thus endowing them with colorful “rainbows”), represent a malicious distortion of young women's reality. Malacad found that many of the women she surveyed had only had one partner since becoming sexually active, and 25 percent had never had sex at all. Young women, she found, have highly ambivalent feelings about sex. This is a result of conflicting media images, where having a lot of sex is at alternately glamorized and then condemned as “cheap.” "I guess, depending on the perspective, young women's sexuality can be seen as a positive, empowering thing for women or a very negative thing," Malacad says.


In Malacad’s view, the real impact of the survey has to do with disease prevention. “Eighty-two per cent of respondents said that they never used protection when engaging in oral sex, compared to only seven per cent for intercourse; it's almost like it didn't occur to them to protect themselves when having oral sex," Malacad says. "I don't think young people are aware that infections can be spread this way and there are options in terms of protecting oneself."


Malacad’s findings match those of a major survey by the Guttmacher Institute earlier this year. After surveying 477 American college students, the Institute found that “The majority of respondents indicated that penile-vaginal intercourse and penile-anal intercourse constitute sex (98 percent and 78 percent, respectively), but only about 20 percent 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.”


Rates of oral sex appear to be fairly balanced between the sexes: The Guttmacher survey revealed that 89.3 female college students had given oral sex and 88.6 percent of male students had received it. By the same token, 77.9 percent of college men had performed cunnilingus and 89.9 percent of women had received it. Typically, neither study examines homosexual activity.

Oral-genital contact can lead to the transmission of syphilis, gonorrhea, herpes, human papillomavirus, internal parasites, hepatitis A and HIV. While this is no secret, approximately 20 percent of adolescents and 10 percent of young adults are unaware of this danger, which is mostly likely due to the way existing sex ed programs focus entirely on penile-vaginal intercourse and essentially pretend that other practices do not exist. What can be done about this? The solution can only come from more intense – and more intimate – enlightenment regarding the “facts of life,” including frank discussions about all the many ways people make love to each other. Whether or not the schools are willing to give oral sex the attention the topic demands – and whether parents are willing to let their children learn the entire, rainbow-colored truth – is another question altogether. 

Image: cracked.com

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You're right, they make no mention of gays and lesbians whatsoever. (I've added that to my article!) Thanks for the "r"!
I like the post (rated) ... SBA makes a lot of good comments here and throughout OS

However, her conclusion that "Because of the advocacy for the use of 'female condoms' over the last decade, the percentage of STDs within the lesbian community is substantially lower than that of the general hetero community." is incorrect and too far-reaching.

There are too many other variables (most notably, no male participant in current sexual activities) to reasonably conclude that dental dams are the reason for lower STDs in the lesbian community.
fascinating post. i don't watch oprah and was completely ignorant about the rainbow parties (or the myth). but that is one gorgeous photo.
At what rate does oral sex lead to lead to the transmission of syphilis, gonorrhea, herpes, human papillomavirus, internal parasites, hepatitis A and HIV?
I think a health professional should answer that. Can anyone here help out?
I'm a lesbian and I've been officially out and sexually active for 21 years. I've never run across any lesbian who uses female condoms, and only rarely have I heard of someone using a dental dam, Saran Wrap, or other such barrier.
(chuckle) Trying to decide whether to "risk" a BBBJ, eh?

That's an unanswerable question -- no (reputable) health professional can assign a "rate of transmission" number to oral-only sexual activity. Too many variables -- someone's skin integrity (absence/presence of open sores/wounds + skin-barrier attributes), blood condition, strain of ID, frequency/length-of-time/technique of cunnilingus or fellatio, etc. make it impossible to predict the likelihood of contracting a STD through oral-only.
um, a friend told me that ... fyi
Since the "acceptable" nomenclature was invented by the Romans it's safe to assume that there is nothing "new" about the practice at all.
Since the dawn of time when people figured out that you couldn't get pregnant form a blow-job, humans have with alacrity been performing same.
(R)ated for reminding me what I've been missing!
"...which suggests that most young women are engaging in these activities because they enjoy them. "

Well there's a news flash.

" ...viewed oral sex as less intimate than intercourse"

This one shocks me. Let's say if my face is going to end.... Well let's leave it there for another post.
What an interesting post. I keep thinking about a visit I made fund raising for my college, Sarah Lawrence ( very large lesbian community) the alumna's daughter was involved in marketing dental dams for oral sex with lesbians. This was 23 years ago and the next time I came across any more mention was at our NJ Gay Pride day two months ago. I was given a dental dam by Planned Parenthood.
I personally don't vouch for the link, but it seems legit, and is supposedly reviewed by a medical review board. Scary thought. Think I will be investing in dental dams and condoms next time I actually get out there and date.
a look at some of the classical hellene pottery will convince you there is nothing new about this pastime. and the greeks probably learned in from the hittites, who learned it from the sumerians...

which is why, written on a clay fragment, there is :" the young people today are lax and disrespectful..." while on the reverse is, "i saw you in action at that party, gramps..."
Young women should be encouraged to stick with hand jobs unless there is firm evidence the guy is disease free.

A good hand job may be the ultimate non fluid exchange sex act.

It's probably safer than kissing.

Wash your hands.
@SBA ... wow, that's pretty harsh

(channelin' my inner-lesbian) Some sources/references make a distinction between a female condom and a dental dam, so AZ's comment is legit.

Also and more importantly, I'd imagine that any lesbo, gay male, bi-, or hetero partners can discuss diseases, get tested, share test results, and (afterwards) engage in unprotected sex without deserving of the label "skank" or miss (sic) informed.

I'm as qualified as anyone to call you on your weird-ass conclusions that aren't based on rational thinking.

And I'm guessing virtually anyone would find the label "skank" more offensive than "lesbo".

You really do need a new girlfriend. Your frustration & hostility in attacking others is over-the-top.

BTW, be sure to remember that non-distinction in female-condom/dental dam the next time your sexual repetoire involves a strap-on followed by cunnilingus, Butch. (butch not a typo)
Thank you for this article. It helps me understand what my children (in their twenties) are dealing with.
Two things
1) although it isn't possible to predict the chance of any one person getting an infection through oral-genital sex, it is possible to look at the historical rate in certain populations and make an educated guess how that rate might change based on knowledge about the influencing factors.
A quick web search found only one on-target reference and that to a non-web available journal.

Page-Shafer K, Shiboski CH, Osmond DH et al.
Risk of HIV infection attributable to oral sex among men who have sex with men and in the population of men who have sex with men. AIDS 2002;16(17):2350-52.

In that study the risk was about .003 for 3 contacts within 6 months between males engaging only in fellatio. You can adjust that how you wish for the many other STIs available and your knowledge about the genitals of the persons you schmooch.

2) both crazyCzar and SBA should dial down their snarkiness. It introduces an unpleasant note to this thread which is refreshingly free of the usual hostilities so far.
hy-Julie ... thanks for the link ... informative

traveler, nice attempt at finding something relevant ... since your reference is a non-web source, is it 0.3% (o.oo3) or 0.003%? also, was there any mention of inner-mouth/skin integrity, spit vs. swallow, etc.? ... I guess the conclusion is "really, really low" risk of transmission without attaching a figure to it.

I think Nick gives the best advice (for those of you with teenage hetero girls).
Where HIV and AIDS are concerned, nitpicking about transmission rates seems misguided. Take discussion of sex out of the equation, you still have contact, soft tissue, bodily fluids - a recipe for transmission that demands serious consideration about protection.
Well, I remember the early days of AIDS quite well, and lesbians were not hit by it as a group, although of course there were individual cases of it. Back in the 70s and 80s, when I first came out as bi, I never had a woman propose using a barrier. Women were already not transmitting HIV between them at the same rate as men when the idea of barriers and "safe sex" for both men and women was first introduced. The difference in the rate of transmission had nothing to do with super-responsible behavior on the part of women and I don't recall any of my lovers even bringing it up. I honestly could never see the point of oral sex with a barrier, unless there were some concrete reason to be cautious. I have had a female lover with an STD and we took precautions against that specific thing.

The figures I've seen for HIV transmission through oral sex are 1 in 300 instances. I don't remember the rate for penis-anus or penis-vagina, but it's far more frequent, like 1 in 6. Some of the diseases listed here that are transmissible by oral sex--syphilis, gonorrhea, sometimes herpes, hep A--have discernible symptoms, though some do not--HIV, HPV, sometimes herpes. Hopefully, you talk, get some background, get tested, and actually look at your partner, then relax. It's a good idea to know what your being in your age group or community exposes you to and focus on that. You'll never be 100% safe no matter what, but your chances are pretty good that you will escape major harm by using common sense.
How can oral sex be so great? I mean, I thought the whole point of it was to be physical, not verbal. What gives?
Why are the schools expected to do this? Whatever happened to parenting?
Cancer can be spread by oral sex.
See my blog entry about my chiropractor.
Juday, Juday, Juday. Love it. :)
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I wonder how the "sex is taboo" mindset of manny americans contribute to this issue.
In my native netherlands we are verry open about sex (i doubd that is any news for the people here) and this results in one of the lowest rates of std / teen pregnancies ect

Take the "forbidden fruit" stigma away and people will experiment less and be more carefull
I wonder how the "sex is taboo" mindset of manny americans contribute to this issue.
In my native netherlands we are verry open about sex (i doubd that is any news for the people here) and this results in one of the lowest rates of std / teen pregnancies ect

Take the "forbidden fruit" stigma away and people will experiment less and be more carefull