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Last updated on April 20, 2014 at 5:20 EDT

Less Teens, Young Adults Are Having Sex

March 3, 2011

According to a federal study which offers numbers but does not examine the reasons, fewer teens and young adults are having sex.

Bill Albert, chief program officers for the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy said he is unsure why the number is decreasing.

Some experts say that an emphasis on abstinence may have played a role, while others say concern about sexually spread diseases may be a factor.

The study released on Thursday is based on interviews of about 5,300 young people between the ages 15 to 24.  The study shows the proportion in that age group who said they had some kind of sexual contact dropped in the past decade from 78 percent to about 72 percent.

Health scientists Anjani Chandra of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said that it is difficult to look for a trend earlier than 2002 because previous surveys did not gather as much details about various types of sex.

However, data over the years on vaginal intercourse among never-married adolescents shows a steady drop since 1988.  That seems to be in sync with other CDC studies showing an overall drop in teen pregnancy.

Albert said that the trend started in the late 1980s and seems to undermine the idea that abstinence-only sex education is the explanation.

Experts said that the leading influence on sexual activity among young adults is what parents teach and what peers are doing.

The CDC report could be surprising to some parents who worry sex is becoming rampant.

“Many parents and adults look at teens and sex and see nothing but a blur of bare midriffs. They think things are terrible and getting worse,” Albert told The Associated Press (AP).

The study was based on in-person interviews of about 13,500 men and women ages 15 to 44 and was conducted in the years 2006 through 2008.  The results were compared with those of a similar survey done in 2002.

Participants were offered $40 for sitting for the interview, which usually lasted an hour and included answering very specific questions on a computer about oral sex, anal sex and other sexual activities.

Women who participated in the study were twice as likely to have had sex with a same-gender partner than men were.

Michael Reece, director of Indiana University’s Center for Sexual Health Promotion, said that may have a lot do to with television shows and other pop culture, which at times seems to celebrate woman-on-woman sexual contact.

“My guess is women are just more likely to feel that’s OK,” he told AP.

Chandra said the CDC study found that such behavior was more common among less educated women.

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