Young Teenagers Not Having Sex As Often As Public Believes
April 2, 2013

Young Teenagers Not Having Sex As Often As Public Believes

Lawrence LeBlond for - Your Universe Online

When it comes to teenagers and sex, several studies have shown teen sex and pregnancy is on the decline. One recent study has shown teenagers are finding safer alternatives to intercourse. And another had seen a recent decline in the number of teens engaging in oral sex.

Some previous research has also looked at sexual activity among teens 14 and younger, but most of those studies date from the 1990s and none have shown information on the youngest of these adolescents. A new study has taken the initiative and looks at child sexuality on a much broader scale, including children under the age of 13.

Publishing their evidence in the April 1 issue of Pediatrics, researchers Lawrence B. Finer, PhD, and Jesse M. Philbin, BA, from the Guttmacher Institute in NYC said pre-teen sex is rare, and those having sex at 10 years old or younger are usually the victims of coercion or some other non-consensual act.

Finer and Philbin looked at children born between 1984 and 1993 and found only 1.1 percent of girls reported having sexual intercourse when they were 11 years old or younger. And only 2.4 percent of 12-year-olds and 5 percent of 13-year-olds reported having sexual intercourse.

"When you look at some polling data of the general public, there are chunks of Americans who believe most (young teens) are having sex,"  Finer told USA Today´s Michelle Healy. "But it was never the case ... and these are long-term patterns," he said, adding that at no time in the past 50 years did more than 10 percent of girls have sex by their 14th birthday.

The study also examined the incidence of pregnancy among girls who have had sexual intercourse. The researchers found for girls aged 12 and younger, the results were non-evident (very miniscule).

Although teenage sex has been on the decline for years, it is still a prominent issue, with many in the public eye perceiving sexual activity in adolescents is still a mainstream occurrence.

However, the researchers clarify their data, which hails from the National Survey of Family Growth (NSFG), a “nationally representative survey of women and men aged 15—44, conducted by the National Center for Health Statistics,” is the best source of information on sexual activity in the United States, and paints a pretty clear picture on the decline of sexual activity in teens.

To garner evidence for adolescents under 15 years of age, the researchers evaluated data from 3,242 females and 3,104 males who responded to the survey in the years 2006 to 2010. To examine the long-term trends related to earlier sexual activity, they separated certain groups of female respondents from the survey and earlier surveys into birth cohorts from 1939 to 1991 and assessed ages by which percentile of each cohort had had sex.

Using that data, the authors were able to determine the median age for first-time sex in the US over the last 50 years has not fallen beneath age 17.

Looking at the data from the 2006-2010 respondents, the authors found at age 15 the incidence of first-time sex increased, but sexual activity among teens still remained low, with 19 percent of 15-year-old girls and 32 percent of 16-year-old girls reporting having sexual intercourse.

Figures for young males were also low, although not as low as females. About two percent of boys had had sex by age 12; five percent of boys at age 13 and 10 percent of boys by age 14. Twenty-two percent of 15-year-old boys reported having sex and 35 percent of 16-year-old males, just a few percent higher than girls.

Overall, sexual activity is more common for both boys and girls in their later teen years. According to the findings, one-third of 16-year-olds, 48 percent of 17-year-olds, 61 percent of 18-year-olds, and seven in every ten 19-year-olds are sexually active.

Sexual patterns of this nature have prevailed for decades, said the researchers. The norm is that sexual activity remains very low in young adolescents, with sexual initiation becoming a normal developmental process as teenagers age.

"Policymakers and the media often sensationalize teen sexual behavior, suggesting that adolescents as young as 10 or 11 are increasingly sexually active," lead author Lawrence Finer said in a statement. "But the data just don't support that concern. Rather, we are seeing teens waiting longer to have sex, using contraceptives more frequently when they start having sex, and being less likely to become pregnant than their peers of past decades."

Finer, Philbin and colleagues also found contraceptive usage is common among teens. Once teens begin to have sex, they regularly protect themselves and their partners from unwanted pregnancy and sexually-transmitted diseases (STDs) and infection.

They found contraceptive initiation among girls at 15 was similar to that of the oldest of teens. They found more than 80 percent of 16-year-olds used contraception at first sex, and by one year following first sex, 95 percent of those teens had used contraception. However, for those who had first sex at 14 or younger were less likely to use contraceptives at first sex and also took longer to begin readily using them.

The researchers´ analysis also found sex among very young adolescents is not only uncommon, but more importantly, frequently involuntary. They found 62 percent of females who had sex by the age of 10 said their first encounter was coerced; 50 percent of those who said their first encounter occurred by age 11 was coerced. The authors argue this type of sexual activity warrants attention in and of itself.

They suggest pediatricians and health professional are in an ideal position to teach adolescents, preteens and teenagers about contraception before they become sexually active, and to make methods available to their parents in advance of their first sexual encounters, which could drastically improve teen health outcomes.

“[Giving teens] the information they need and the services they need to protect themselves, if and when they become sexually active, that obviously is a very important public health goal," Finer told USA Today.