American Teens Having Less Sex

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TeensWhile teens are tweeting, texting, sexting and making contact regularly using digital means, old-school physical means are apparently not as popular as they used to be. American teens are having less sex than at any point in the last 25 years.

According to a new U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) study, teenagers in the U.S. are taking it slower and safer than their parents did. Less than half of those ages 15 to 19 are sexually active, per data gathered from 2011 to 2013.

For males, only 47 percent of those ages 15 to 19 had sexual intercourse at least once; the rate was 60 percent in 1988. For females, only 44 percent had sex at least once versus 51 percent in 1988. Those results echoed data gathered from 2006 to 2010, too.

Those who do engage in intercourse are likely to use contraceptive during and especially after, if need be. The so-called morning after pill was only used by 8 percent of adolescent women in 2002, but was used by 22 percent in this survey. (That can be attributed to availability to those 15 and over without a prescription.) Some contraceptive (including withdrawal) was used by 79 percent of females and 84 percent of males, with a condom being the top choice.

While overall usage of other forms of birth control has not changed greatly in recent years, but overall the teen pregnancy rate is down 57 percent from its 1991 high. However, authorities point out that the rate of 26 births per 1,000 teens is still high compared to other developed countries.

The researchers gathered the data from surveying more than 2,000 teenagers ages 15 to 19 (1,088 males and 1,037 females) during the three years. The research team also interviewed approximately 1,770 adults between ages 20 and 24, to talk about their high school and initial sexual experiences. This increased the sample size to include people who were no longer teens and could report on their encounters.

One surprising figure is that by age 19, only 68-69 percent of teens have engaged in sexual intercourse. This figure seems low for many college campuses and fans of Girls, but it may reflect an issue with the questions. Homosexual relationships are not factored in as sexual encounters. The CDC write-up defines sexual intercourse as vaginal intercourse. So, the true percentages of teens are not an accuratge representation of percentages of heterosexual teens.

The researchers did not ask American teens specifics about reasons for having less sex or about their contraceptive choices. But there are theories that have emerged that one reason teens are more cautious, careful and less likely to be sexual active in high school – the Internet. ‘‘They’re looking on the Web. They’re looking for guidance from parents, guardians, and physicians. They can and will make positive decisions for their own health, both sexual and otherwise,’’ noted Brooke Bokor, an adolescent medicine specialist with the Children’s National Health System. ‘‘We really need to be prepared to treat our youth and young adults as educated consumers.’’

Written and edited by Dyanne Weiss

U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: NCHS Data Brief: Sexual Activity, Contraceptive Use, and Childbearing of Teenagers Aged 15–19 in the United States
CNN: Teen sex rate lowest since the 1980s, contraceptive use remains high
Boston Globe: Why American teenagers are having much less sex
Washington Post: Why American teenagers are having much less sex

Photo Courtesy of Ladislav Faigl-Creative Commons License