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June 2nd, 2010
02:55 PM ET

Teens having sex: Numbers staying steady

By Saundra Young
CNN Medical Senior Producer

The number of teenagers having sex hasn't changed much over the last eight years, according to a new report looking at sexual behavior in adolescents ages 15-19. The report, from the National Survey of Family Growth (NFSG), was released Wednesday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's National Center for Health Statistics. It looked at trends in sexual activity, contraceptive use and attitudes towards pregnancy in unmarried teenagers, and found there have been not significant changes since the last NFSG report in 2002.

Based on data from a two year period between 2006 and 2008, it found more than 42 percent - or 4.3 million - teenage girls have had sex at least once. That number was 43 percent - or 4.5 million - for teenage boys. Nearly 30 percent of boys and girls surveyed have had 2 or more partners. Teenage girls who were younger when they had their first sexual encounter were more likely to have more partners. And teens whose mothers had their first child as a teenager and, at 14, did not have both parents in the home were more likely to be sexually active.

Joyce Abma, Ph.D., a Demographer at the National Center for Health Statistics and coauthor of the study, says the message is mixed. "It's a bit concerning that the data suggest a loss of momentum compared to the study improvements of the 90s. But there are still some positive signs and things going in the right direction so it seems as though efforts still need to be focused on motivating teens to prevent pregnancy and that's especially true since the US teen birth rate is so much higher than in comparable countries."

According to Abma, the country with the next highest teen birth rate is the United Kingdom–and our rate is 1 1/2 times higher, and the gap keeps growing after that. In Canada the teen birth rate is 13 per 1,000. Here, it's 43 per 1,000."

The encouraging news is that nearly 80 percent of teenage girls and 90 percent of teen boys used some sort of contraceptive during their first sexual encounter. Condoms remain the most commonly used form of birth control. Ninety-five percent of sexually experienced girls used them at least once. Withdrawal was next, followed by the pill.

Usually, first partners were someone the teen was going steady with. Next, was someone they just met, although these encounters were more apt to occur with boys than girls. For teenagers abstaining altogether, the most common reason for doing so was that it was against their moral or religious beliefs. Pregnancy was second. Interestingly enough, pregnancy was not always a deterrent. In fact, parents might be startled to learn nearly a quarter of boys and girls who have had sex said they would be "pleased" if they got pregnant or got a partner pregnant. And a majority of teens – 64 percent of males and 71 percent of females - felt it was ok to have a child out of wedlock.

"I was a bit surprised with the level of agreement that unmarried childbearing is acceptable and the fact that it increased among males. That in combination with attitude results seem to suggest that males are less concerned about causing a pregnancy compared to the 2002 survey." Abma said.

Unfortunately, the survey found teenage girls in the 15-19 age group still have higher Chlamydia and gonorrhea rates than any other age group and teen boys. Almost half of all new sexually transmitted diseases are in teens and young adults ages 15 to 24 years old.

The study was based on in-person interviews of nearly 3,000 teenagers. The report can be found on-line at http://www.cdc.gov/nchs. Data from a new survey currently underway will be available next year and will add to current findings and will be broken down by race and Hispanic origin.

Editor's Note: Medical news is a popular but sensitive subject rooted in science. We receive many comments on this blog each day; not all are posted. Our hope is that much will be learned from the sharing of useful information and personal experiences based on the medical and health topics of the blog. We encourage you to focus your comments on those medical and health topics and we appreciate your input. Thank you for your participation.


soundoff (111 Responses)
  1. Chalupa

    And now we have a reality TV show Dad Camp where irresponsible boy friends are going to be given a crash course on how to be a parent. Let's see. Get your girlfriend pregnant and then see if you can make some money on a version of "America's Got Stupid".

    June 2, 2010 at 18:12 | Report abuse | Reply
  2. caribbeanjah

    Teen sex numbers will always stay steady as long as there are teens around...

    June 3, 2010 at 10:14 | Report abuse | Reply
  3. kate

    "Ninety-five percent of sexually experienced girls used them at least once. Withdrawal was next, followed by the pill."

    Withdrawl? Really? NOT a form of birth control.

    June 3, 2010 at 11:02 | Report abuse | Reply
  4. chancie

    Withdrawal method is no method at all, and shouldn't even be taught to kids as a method of birth control.

    Looking at these numbers it's obvious that we need condom machines in schools now. Schools are too conservative and too naive to best serve the needs of teens. What's better: to act naive about condoms, or to help prevent STDs and pregnancies among our kids?

    June 3, 2010 at 11:07 | Report abuse | Reply
    • uknow

      Don't blame the schools for not teaching birth control, blame your right wing Christian's who think that it promotes sexual activity. We are only allowed to teach abstinence and we can all see how well that works!

      November 9, 2010 at 13:54 | Report abuse |
  5. Obsidian

    DUH. They are young, have a high sex drive and great bodies.. why wouldnt they be having sex? Are you people stupid? The average teenage girl walks around dressed like a porn star, media is filled with morally bankrupt shows depicting young people treating each other like garbage, parents who pay no attention to the moral baseline their kids live upon.. the reasons are endless.. but face it.. we as humans are driven towards sex. get over it already.. and make sure they are being safe about it because you sure as he||arent going to stop them once they've started.

    June 3, 2010 at 11:17 | Report abuse | Reply
  6. Scotty

    "The encouraging news is that...teenage girls and...teen boys used some sort of contraceptive during their first sexual encounter"

    What?!? Encouraging?? NO! Not encouraging. Damaging, destructive, hazardous to health, selfish, self-absorbing, inhumane, immature, imprudent, uncharitable, deceptive, contributing to other poor decisions, encouraging ONLY in the sense of encouraging teens to continue to have sex, a false sense security...a LIE.

    The problem will only continue and worsen if contraceptive use is provided, encouraged, and considered acceptable in our society

    June 3, 2010 at 11:20 | Report abuse | Reply
  7. Toni McFall

    As long as they are using protection (condoms) I don't see a problem. They are just acting on their natural sex drive. It's totally natural for teens to have sex. When people are hungry they eat. When they are horny they have sex. What is wrong here is our culture's view that having sex is a moral issue, when it is not. Like many activities, it just needs to be done safely.

    June 3, 2010 at 11:59 | Report abuse | Reply
  8. PBColeman

    LET'S FACE THE TRUTH! Teens with natual, healthy libidos will have sex. That 's just the plain facts most folks don't want to hear. A good approach is the one I had with my three children, explaining the emotional committment involved and need to use protection again unwanted pregnancy and disease. They thank me today for regularly educating and explaining these realities to them – so they could make informed decisions. They are now 32, 30 and 40 and have never had children they did not plan – or sexually transmitted diseases.

    June 3, 2010 at 12:12 | Report abuse | Reply
  9. Jon

    Chalupa, I have seen more single mothers on Maury Povich with problematic teen-aged children (very sexually active, drug use, disrespecting their parent) then I care to count.

    It's the single mothers out there that are to blame. They should be spending less time with their legs spread. That would help prevent a lot of "unwanted" children.

    June 3, 2010 at 12:13 | Report abuse | Reply
  10. Daniel, Palm Beach, FL

    Parents being envolved in their children's lives is the best form of protection/contraception.

    June 3, 2010 at 12:18 | Report abuse | Reply
  11. Claudia, Houston, Tx

    Teens aren't stupid, they know having sex is wrong. It's the parents responsibility to teach them about the right and wrong choices. There is no example set when you have someone like Bristol Palin, an unwed mother, trying to teach them a lesson about sex that she didn't learn herself. Parents must teach their children to have high goals in life for themselves.

    June 3, 2010 at 12:20 | Report abuse | Reply
  12. Beckers

    Even if a teenage (16) girl swears she's not having sex, GET HER ON BIRTHCONTROL!! My little cousin was starting to look at colleges, now she's going to be in 12th grade with an infant to take care of. Yay!!

    June 3, 2010 at 12:21 | Report abuse | Reply
  13. Abraham Lincoln

    This is why abstinence education has been and will continue to be a failure. Kids need actual sexual education, not thinly-veiled religious bull crap.

    June 3, 2010 at 12:22 | Report abuse | Reply
  14. Teddy

    So I see the abstinence campaign is really working.

    June 3, 2010 at 12:28 | Report abuse | Reply
  15. Saltwithpep

    Of course teens are thinking that its OK to have babies without marriage......the welfare system will pay for them. The State should pay for them because their Mother was taken care of and the Taxpayer is a good ole boy and they deserve it.
    My take on this...! If you don't have a job or make enough money to support these babies...the welfare system should sterilize you after one child and you will be taxed for any additional babies.....or since you can't supporf yourself then your welfare will be cut for any added babies. Oh, I can hear it now from the do-gooders...Which is better...not enough jobs for the babies or less babies and more job....you can over populate the job market.....

    June 3, 2010 at 12:31 | Report abuse | Reply
    • angie

      that is bullshit. being married is not a requirement for having children. i'm nineteen with a one year old and i am not married. i am with my child's father and i 've got to say that we are damn good parents. i don't encourage people to get pregnant as teenagers, but they should't be told they can't handle it if they do get pregnant. and i agree with truellyappalled. i am a white woman who has a baby with a white man. the color of your skin doesn't determine if you are going to get pregnant young or if you are going to be a good parent versus a bad parent. and just to inform you, i used a condom and still got pregnant. i am damn proud teenage mom and if you don't like it, thats too bad for you. ooohhh and by the way, i don't get WIC, free housing, free schooling or anything for free. and the reason this country offers things like this is to help the parents better themselves. granted, some people take advantage of the system, but it doesn't mean only teenagers do it. (doesn't mean everybody else does it either)...and also, my mom did not have me at a young age. (unless you consider 30 years old young...it's not old but it's not a bad age for a child)..and my mom had no choice but to leave me dad as he couldn't stop hitting her or cheating on her. I admit having sex at a young age can have an emotional and even mental affect on you, but i lived through it and nobody but my boyfriend and i take care of my child.I also grauduated while i was pregnant. i had honors and graduated in the top half of my class. (sure somebody will say if i was smart enough to do this, then why did i get pregnant as a teenager..believe me, its been said before...but you do know my whole story so i dont wanna hear anything anybody has to say about it).... so before you go spouting off about teens being encouraged to have kids so they can get government benefits, maybe you should do some fact-checking! Thanks!!!

      October 21, 2010 at 21:58 | Report abuse |
  16. Joe NY, NY

    There's a two-prong problem here: how to get the teen sex numbers up and the pregnancies down.

    June 3, 2010 at 12:34 | Report abuse | Reply
  17. bo peep

    Obviously we need to outlaw teenagers.

    June 3, 2010 at 12:37 | Report abuse | Reply
  18. hilltop

    its like these 7 billion people came out of nowhere.

    June 3, 2010 at 12:38 | Report abuse | Reply
  19. Jomas

    They forgot to mention that most of the people they are talking about are mexicans and blacks. I am not trying to be racist, I am trying to illuminate the crisis in these communities. I came from a broken home and never had children for this very reason.

    June 3, 2010 at 12:38 | Report abuse | Reply
  20. Chris

    Teen sex has been going on for thousands of years. Nothing immoral about it.

    Back then, teens were considered adults, and thus it was perfectly normal for a teen to get married and start a family.

    Since industrialization hit the world, we began pushing the "adult" and "married" part of growing up to their 20's and even 30's, but we haven't come to grips with the fact that their teen bodies have naturally moved into their adult phase.

    June 3, 2010 at 12:39 | Report abuse | Reply
  21. dont ask

    The reality...
    ~25% have, and admit it.
    ~25% have, but deny it.
    ~25% never had, but say they did.
    and the other 25% wish they could...

    June 3, 2010 at 12:39 | Report abuse | Reply
  22. Kacey

    Claudia – you say teens aren't stupid, they know having sex is wrong. Why is it wrong? It's attitudes like that which push teens towards growing up too fast. Sex isn't wrong – it's completely normal. We need to teach them to make responsible and thought out sexual decisions, not fill them with guilt or temptation. And, if a teen decides to have sex – let them know about testing and birth control. That's real power.

    Also, stop having kids if you aren't stable!!

    June 3, 2010 at 12:42 | Report abuse | Reply
  23. Kacey

    Oh, and Jomas – that's not true. Though within minorities these statistics are greater – the minority is not responsible for the majority of problems. Even if ALL the black teenagers were having sex and ALL the hispanic teenagers were having sex – it still wouldn't touch the amount of white teens having sex. There are just far, far more white people than anyone else.

    June 3, 2010 at 12:43 | Report abuse | Reply
  24. paul

    The best method of birth control? Take your 14 year old daughter to see a woman giving birth. Give her an opportunity to share in the labor pains, the water breaking, the doctors checking her for dilation. Let her see the joy that is stripping the membranes, the administration of an epidural (oops, a little off, that's a spinal tap, not an epidural), the episiotomy. Let her share the blissful experience of transition. Let her see the joy on the womans face as the baby crowns. And lets not forget basking in the afterglow as the placenta follows the baby out of the mom.

    Then tell her about condoms and the pill.

    June 3, 2010 at 12:45 | Report abuse | Reply
    • TOM

      haha good one thats smart

      December 17, 2010 at 12:36 | Report abuse |
  25. FT

    I'm always surprised to see any study that favors abstinence over comprehensive sex education. I graduated high school in 2008 from a health program that was abstinence only. Since graduating our class has had at least 10 girls have children and possibly more than have chosen abortion. If you're not showing your children ALL contraceptive options (especially how to properly put on a condom), you are risking their chances of having their lives interrupted by babies or STIs.
    In response to the statistics about unwed parents, I wouldn't be surprised if it's somehow linked to the movie Juno or Sixteen and Pregnant. I think the movie and show have made teen pregnancy look acceptable when it is not.
    Adding comprehensive sex education to all schools seems to be such a logical solution to me that I find it frustrating to know that it's not going to happen anytime soon. Our teen pregnancy rates will continue to rise without it.

    June 3, 2010 at 12:45 | Report abuse | Reply
  26. Fram

    I don't think that we need to put condoms in our children's schools just yet. I do think that we really need to require more from the parents.

    June 3, 2010 at 12:46 | Report abuse | Reply
  27. Captain Obvious

    Parents should teach their children about sex. The reality is that they don't. They ask the schools to do it for them. Schools are forced by the overly religious to teach abstinence only, unless the schools want to face lawsuits. The result is a plethora of purity rings go on fingers, promises are made to parents, and apologies are made when litle Sally tells mom and dad she's expecting.

    Time to step up, parents. This is not the job of the schools...you won't allow them to teach the reality, therefore you must do it yourself.

    June 3, 2010 at 12:49 | Report abuse | Reply
  28. Edward

    The numbers above do suggest that abstinence does in fact work for more than half of teens. . . It also worked for me. A comprehensive approach including abstinence as the primary target, but with back-up instruction for those who won't choose abstinence is the most logical approach. In that sense, both sides of this issue are correct to some degree and a one size fits all approach is probably not appropriate. In any case, assuming that abstinence is not an option is completely illogical.

    June 3, 2010 at 12:52 | Report abuse | Reply
  29. dont ask

    @Jomas: Not really - We were unfortunate enough to live in the mid-west for a time. –I can say for a fact that MANY teenage white girls are popping out babies (often for the welfare) like it was some kind of a game. We've also lived in many "non-white" areas, and didn't see nearly as many hoochy (whore-like) teen-aged girls running arouund pregnant, or with child(ren), as we do in the white, Christian "bible-belt" areas... Take an unbiased look.

    June 3, 2010 at 12:54 | Report abuse | Reply
  30. Joe

    does anyone else see the flaw in there data?... " Next, was someone they just met, although these encounters were more apt to occur with boys than girls." ...If a boy just met a girl, then it follows that the girl just met the boy, and therefore the data would be the exact same. So either guys are lying, or girls aren't speaking up.

    June 3, 2010 at 12:56 | Report abuse | Reply
  31. Bekah

    Jomas,

    I don't think it is fair to assume that the teens interviewed represent a high number of black and hispanic kids. If you look at the full article and go the the methods section, it is clear that 110 interview locations were randomly selected and in each location, the teenagers who were interviewed were randomly selected. If you know about statistics, you know that assuming the sample size was large enough the number of people from each race, class, age, ethnicity... should be representative of the entire population of teenagers.

    June 3, 2010 at 12:56 | Report abuse | Reply
  32. Jimbob Jones

    I'm going to have 4 kids that I cannot afford and let the welfare take care of them, muwahhahahahah

    June 3, 2010 at 13:02 | Report abuse | Reply
  33. GP

    So what is the problem with 18-19 year olds having sex?

    June 3, 2010 at 13:02 | Report abuse | Reply
  34. UltraViolet

    The key is require more from the parents. Parents seem to allow their children too much freedom once they are about 13. That's when all heck breaks loose. Then you have so many parents that are on drugs/alcohol or some mental defect that gives them freedom to do as they please. 2 parents cant step up and control this one if there are 10 children involved at last 8 parents would need to step up. If not the ones whom parents didnt step up will eventually win some control over the others and bang Sad story

    June 3, 2010 at 13:05 | Report abuse | Reply
    • sadistwitch

      You are partially right. Parental intervention is the key. But we have to step up and be proactive and educate our teens about sex and safe sex without bias.

      November 9, 2010 at 16:32 | Report abuse |
  35. bleubob

    I have a daughter who waited until she was married; 18 y.o. boy, and a 16 y.o. daughter who are both virgins. We teach abstinence, and ("dont ask") live in the bible belt. Take an interest in your kids, what they do & who they do it with. Parents are too busy trying to be friends instead of parents. Abstinence only works...we have a 100% success rate. It's the parents, stupid...

    June 3, 2010 at 13:11 | Report abuse | Reply
  36. John s

    I think abstinence education followed with some instructions on how to use condoms is the best approach. Let the kids chose, tell them real numbers, real statistics.

    Also, don't forget to tell them that condoms, even if used properly have 0% effect on several STDs, such as Herpes 1 and Herpes 2 and other diseases that are not covered by a condom.

    Also, show them the data from the CDC that tells you the number of new HIV cases is not decreasing annually, but is INCREASING.

    How is that for comprehensive "safe sex" education. If the education worked, how come this is occurring? Even with population growth being taken into account?

    It used to be called "safe sex", now it is called "safer sex". Sounds like Global Warming and now Climate Change. Hmm... is it true that there is no such thing as safe sex, and no such thing as global warming?

    June 3, 2010 at 13:12 | Report abuse | Reply
  37. Aaron

    Joe,

    I don't see a flaw in the data. The portion of the data that you are mentioning is for their first time. It means that the guy's first time is coming with girls that aren't doing it for the first time. Makes sense since more teenage guys(4.5M) are having sex than teenage girls(4.3M).

    June 3, 2010 at 13:12 | Report abuse | Reply
  38. Jeremy Clason

    The ONLY way (other than murdering or nutering your teenager) to prevent teenagers from having sex is to instill some sort of moral values into them WAY BEFORE they become teenagers.

    June 3, 2010 at 13:17 | Report abuse | Reply
  39. Mike S., New Orleans

    I thought for sure Bristol Palin's Abstinence Tour 2010 would have cut down on the number of teens having sex. Of course, it might encourage some to do so knowing if they get pregnant and have a child out of wedlock, they can get $10,000 to $20,000 per speech to talk about it.

    June 3, 2010 at 13:17 | Report abuse | Reply
  40. Kyle

    @Scotty:

    Please explain how it is damaging, destructive, hazarous to health, inhumane, immature, imprudent, uncharitable(?) and deceptive for people to be using some sort of contraceptive suring their first sexual encounter

    June 3, 2010 at 13:17 | Report abuse | Reply
  41. Kyle

    @ Kate

    "Withdrawl? Really? NOT a form of birth control."

    To be fair, it IS a form of birth control. Just a very, very poor and inefficient form of birth control.

    June 3, 2010 at 13:19 | Report abuse | Reply
  42. Josh

    I thought the Withdrawal method was when one of your parents knocked at your door, before you were finished.

    June 3, 2010 at 13:19 | Report abuse | Reply
  43. Kyle

    @ Chancie:

    "Withdrawal method is no method at all, and shouldn't even be taught to kids as a method of birth control."

    It isn't. No one teaches this.

    June 3, 2010 at 13:20 | Report abuse | Reply
  44. klsz

    Hmmm...42 percent of females vs. 43 percent of males...who are the 1 percent of males having sex with? If it weren't for sex none of us would be around. It is a fact of life on the planet Earth. It is not dirty or shameful in and of itself..but is so only in minds of people who can not handle its powerful primal message of survival.

    June 3, 2010 at 13:23 | Report abuse | Reply
  45. A SELF-RESPECTFUL TEEN

    Our Teens aren't given enough responsibility if they think it is "no big deal" or if they think it's "cool" to be pregnant or to get a girl pregnant. Of course the boy doesn't care if he gets a girl pregnant, if he doesn't go to work, he will never have to pay child support. If the teen gets government assistance to care for the child and mother, who cares, they will be taken care of. This is the attitude that I see, just pure laziness, and no responsibility. Responsibility is what molds a child into an adult. Years ago, of course it was more acceptable to have children at a younger age, – you didn't live as long,- and you didn't sit on your butt in front of a computer to do your work, or sit in front of a t.v. all evening. It time to make the boy do his part, get out of his parents house and take up HIS responsibility. And SHE should have enough self-respect to demand that. Our morals are deranged. If anything should be taught in school, it shouldn't be sex education, it should be morals and responsibility for you actions.

    June 3, 2010 at 13:24 | Report abuse | Reply
  46. lifelover

    I am a high school health teacher with 22 years experience teaching comprehensive sex education.Even students who are fully educated on this subject still get STD's and pregnant, but the #'s are less. The key is to wipe away the ignorance, empower them with knowledge, let them know that "sex" is a natural but special human thing and to respect it!

    June 3, 2010 at 13:25 | Report abuse | Reply
  47. Karen

    I think I'm the only parent on the planet who expects that her kids will have sex and talks with them about it that way. When my oldest son (a handsome and outgoing young man) chose to sleep with a girl, he was 18 (yes, he chatted with me about it). I suspect the other children will be older as well. We encourage them to wait for it to be a special experience and meaningful for them; but, we also understand that their libido might rule over that notion ~ so we go/will go with them to choose birth control (because it can be embarrassing and intimidating).

    Sex is as normal as eating or breathing. Advice to young friends: Try and eat well, go where there is good air, and do your best to protect your genitalia (and your psyche): share it with those who care about your well-being.

    June 3, 2010 at 13:28 | Report abuse | Reply
  48. David

    @Toni McFall
    I agree with you...partially. The problem with it is that there is a level of responsibility that comes with sex that I don't believe MOST teenagers can handle. I view it in a similar way we should not allow teenagers to indulge in alcohol. Generally speaking, they're not mature (smart :-P) enough to handle those types of indulgences safely in the physical/health aspect as well as the relational aspect (for sex). Sex almost always changes a relationship (the only exception I can think of being if the relationship was only sex to begin with) and there is a decorum to follow after experiencing that with one's partner.

    June 3, 2010 at 13:33 | Report abuse | Reply
  49. Kyle

    @Edward:
    "In any case, assuming that abstinence is not an option is completely illogical."

    No one is suggesting this. What is being suggested is that abstinence ONLY is not not an option.

    June 3, 2010 at 13:36 | Report abuse | Reply
  50. swilson

    Jomas even if you weren’t trying to sound racist you did. But above anything you just sound ill-mannered and uneducated. I am a black female who grew up in a single parent home after my father passed away and my mother encouraged my sister and I to wait until we were married to have sex. Your value system is not based on whether you live in a one or two parent home. The fact that you come from a broken home should not dictate whether or not you will marry and have children. I would never deny myself such a beautiful experience because of a bad situation that was not in my control as a child. I hate to base anything on a reality TV show but in order to make my point I will do just that. If you watch Teen Moms on MTV how many of them have been Black or "Mexican" as you so greatly defined the Latino and Latina community. The entire cast of the first season was a group of Caucasian females from extremely small towns in the U.S. Season two is exactly the same. So before you make sadistic comments please do your research and don’t place a stigma on one or two types of populations. Granted there may be a large number or teenage pregnancies in the Black and Hispanic communities but there are just as many in others as well. It is not a race issue but a value issue that comes from parents. They MUST protect their children and make them aware of what they are doing to their minds, bodies and souls as a result of multiple sexual partners. I beleive that parents should take sex ed as well so that they are just as aware so that when issues do arrive they are able to use the correct tools to steer them in the right direction.

    June 3, 2010 at 13:36 | Report abuse | Reply
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