With the abundance of sexualized media directed at teens today, you might get the impression that they are constantly on the prowl to “hook up.” That’s not the case according to a new government study.
"The myth is that every kid in high school is having sex, and it's not true," noted Dr. Cora Breuner, a professor of pediatrics at Seattle Children's Hospital, who reviewed the findings. "It's less than half, and it's been less than half for more than 10 years," she said.
Sexual intercourse among teens has declined again after rates stabilized between 2002-2010, according to the National Center for Health Statistics report on teen sexual activity and contraceptive use released recently by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
While the numbers aren’t exactly low enough to ease many parents’ minds, they are better than in previous years.
The study found that 42 percent of girls and 44 percent of boys - aged 15 to 19 - reported having sex at least once. That’s a huge decline from the peak of 1988 when 57 percent of teens between the ages of 15 and 19 reported having had sex.
And Breuner said that finding is nothing new. Going back to 2002, fewer than half of older teens told researchers that they are sexually active, federal data show.
Researchers also found that a higher percentage of teens having sex are involved in a relationship that is ongoing.
Three out of four girls participating in the study, said they were "going steady" with their first sexual partner, and a little more than half of the boys said the same. By comparison, only 2 percent of girls and 7 percent of boys said they lost their virginity to someone they just met.
"There's this myth that kids hook up quite a bit and have sex with someone they literally just met," Breuner said. "This dispels that myth, that our teenagers are having sex with people they don't know."
The statistics come from in-person interviews conducted with more than 4,000 teenagers across the United States between 2011 and 2015. Participation was voluntary and required parental permission, but responses were anonymous.
Today’s teens are more aware of and better educated about the dangers of sexually transmitted diseases such HIV and AIDS. Back in 1988, 51 percent of girls and 60 percent of boys between 15 and 19 said they were sexually active, but those numbers dropped to today's levels after word spread of a sexually transmitted disease that could kill, Breuner said.
Teens are also more concerned about the long-term consequences of pregnancy. Nine out of ten participants in the study said they use some form of birth control. Contraception is widely available now; particularly condoms and teens have better access to all forms of birth control than in decades before.
At the same time, parents have become more at ease with talking about sex and making sure their teens engage in smart sex, Breuner added.
"Parents honestly to their credit were much more willing to talk about this with their teenagers and were more proactive in making sure they had access to contraceptives," she said.
The study was published in the June edition of the CDC’s National Health Statistics Report.
Story sources: Dennis Thompson, http://www.upi.com/Health_News/2017/06/22/Study-Most-US-teenagers-arent-having-sex/4041498137424/
Shamard Charles, M.D., http://www.nbcnews.com/health/kids-health/waiting-right-one-teens-having-sex-later-cdc-finds-n775236