Saturday 5 March 2011

Teenagers and sex: More chaste, less chased

Sex in America: Who's doing what and how often. In the United States, the National Center for Health Statistics, part of the Centers for Disease Control, released on March 3, 2011 a new study about our favourite pastime. Entitled "Sexual Behavior, Sexual Attraction, and Sexual Identity in the United States", the research delved into the practices of 13,495 males and females to catch up on the latest in the bedroom after the last study conducted in 2002. While many headlines portend the return of Sodom and Gomorrah, it would seem that in reality, people may just be a tad more sensible than we give them credit for.

Teens Having Less Sex
It turns out that those supposedly randy teenagers aren't so randy after all. Teen sex has dropped since 2002, the date of the last survey. I said "More chaste, less chased" as to mean more abstinence and less chasing the opposite sex.

In 2002, in the age group 15 to 24, 21.9% of females and 21.9% of males reported no sexual contact with another person. In this latest study, females were 28.6% and males were 27.2%

In the group of teenagers, aged 15 to 19, 41.6% of the males (table 2) have never had sexual contact with the opposite sex while for females, the number was 46.8% (table 1). Look at those who have only had one sexual partner and you'll see that the majority of teens are not playing the field going willy nilly from flower to flower. It would seem that despite raging hormones, these youthful years are not spending as much time in the sack as one would think.

Abstinence: yep, no sex at all
For females ages 15 to 44, 11% had never had sex, up from 8.3% in 2002. Among men ages 15 to 44, the number was 11.2% up from 10% in 2002. It would seem that the grouping of ages from 15 to 44 is skewed by the abstinence in teenagers as the breakdown by age clearly shows that those reporting never having had sex drops off considerably with age. That is, most don't make it to 44 without having some sexual encounter. We return to the idea that if abstinence is up, it is because teenagers are having less sex.

For those who do, what do they do?
Vaginal intercourse is at the top of the list but not necessarily an overwhelming endorsement. In the 15-44 age group, females said yes 65.1% while males said yes 62.9%. However if you look beyond that group up to age 44, you find that intercourse climbs until it's almost 100%. It would seem the younger crowd is restricting their sexual activities to a certain degree.

In fact, amongst the 15-24 group, 55.8% of females gave oral sex while 59.2% received it. 52.2% of men gave oral sex while 61.9% received it. Once again, when looking at the numbers for ages beyond 24 towards 44, the numbers reported for oral sex climb to 90% for men and 88% for women. It would seem that as one gets older, variety may be the spice of life but when you're younger, more oral and less vaginal could be a deliberate attempt at birth control.

Anal, the forbidden fruit remains around 20% for both sexes in the 15-24 group but goes up with age until at the upper limit of 44 years, it ranks at 32.4% for females and 41.7% for males. It would seem that people experiment but oral and vaginal sex remain the preferred forms of sex.

Same Sex
For females across all age groups, the number is 12.5% while for males, it's 5.2%. While there is no definitive reasons given within the context of the survey, the speculation is that males may be less prone to report same sex behaviour.

Teen Pregnancies
The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy reports that teen pregnancy, that is, under the age of 20, has declined dramatically after 1990. Yes, a bit of a dip around 2005 and 2006, but it's been coming down. The numbers show a 39% drop from 116.9 per 1,000 in 1990 to 71.5 per 1,000 in 2006. Is this the result of better education and birth control being more readily available whether it being the condom or the pill?

Sex Education and Parental Talks
In the NCHS report of September 2010 called "Educating Teenagers About Sex in the United States", the organisation points out
  • Most teenagers received formal sex education before they were 18 (96% of female and 97% of male teenagers).
  • Female teenagers were more likely than male teenagers to report first receiving instruction on birth control methods in high school (47% compared with 38%).
  • Younger female teenagers were more likely than younger male teenagers to have talked to their parents about sex and birth control.
  • Nearly two out of three female teenagers talked to their parents about “how to say no to sex” compared with about two out of five male teenagers.
The above numbers are not 100% and anybody would say there is room for improvement. However, the fact that teenage pregnancies have dropped remarkably since 1990 would indicate that teenagers are knowledgeable and responsible in general.

Final Word
Sex, sex, sex! Does a day go by without that word popping up in a headline? However, this latest report from the National Center for Health Statistics would indicate we are not going to hell in a handbasket. For those who are having sex, the vast majority of them are monogamous. We are not actually that sinful.

Concerning the younger crowd, it would seem that we may not be giving teenagers enough credit. Plus there may be some credit due to both the education system and parents. However, I would be quick to point out how the past ten years have been very much part of the information age where the Internet is allowing access to more information than ever before. Yes, there is the education system, yes there are parents but let's not forget that people including teenagers do have a better chance of educating themselves about what's what with a few clicks and Google. That drop in teen pregnancies had to have come from somewhere.

We sometimes get stuck on the headlines and individual cases which highlight something really bad. In reality, when we look at the statistics and the big picture, things are not at all as bad as that one horrible case we're reading about in the headline. It comes back to the idea that one example does not make a rule. The plural of anecdote is not data.

I'm not saying we don't have any room for improvement - Wouldn't we like to be perfect? - but we're not turning into Sodom and Gomorrah.


National Survey of Family Growth - March 2011
Sexual Behavior, Sexual Attraction, and Sexual Identity in the United States

NCHS Data Brief - Sep 2010
Educating Teenagers About Sex in the United States

Answers.Com: National Center for Health Statistics
The National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS), the United States federal government's principal vital and health statistics agency, is organizationally part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Created in 1960 by the merger of the National Office of Vital Statistics and the National Health Survey, the agency monitors the nation's health.

Wikipedia: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (or CDC) is a United States federal agency under the Department of Health and Human Services based in Druid Hills, unincorporated DeKalb County, Georgia, near Atlanta. It works to protect public health and safety by providing information to enhance health decisions, and it promotes health through partnerships with state health departments and other organizations. The CDC focuses national attention on developing and applying disease prevention and control (especially infectious diseases), environmental health, occupational safety and health, health promotion, injury prevention and education activities designed to improve the health of the people of the United States.


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