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Health & Medicine Fewer Young Adolescents Engaging in Sexual Activity, Most Sexually Active by 17

Fewer Young Adolescents Engaging in Sexual Activity, Most Sexually Active by 17

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First Posted: Apr 01, 2013 11:56 AM EDT
Teenagers
Studies show that once teens begin sexual activity, many make efforts to protect themselves and partners from pregnancy and STDs. (Photo : Flickr.com/Good Foundation)

The amount of sexual activity among the younger adolescents has been a long debated topic of uncertainty as to whether statistics accurately paint a clear picture of their behavior.

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According to "Sexual Initiation, Contraceptive Use and Pregnancy Among Young Adolescents," by Lawrence B. Finer and Jesse M. Philbin of the Guttmacher Institute, published online in the journal Pediatrics, very few early adolescents are actually having any type of sexual activity. Reports indicate that for both girls and boys, only 0.6 percent of 10-year-olds have had sex. The same is true for 11-year-olds at 1.1 percent and 12-year-olds at 2.4 percent.

And while researchers note that adolescence is a time of rapid change, the start of most sexual activity is more commonly seen in older teens, with 33 percent participating in sexual activities by age 16, 48 percent at 17 and 61 to 71 percent of 18- and 19-year-olds.

While the pattern of sexual influence gradually inclining with age in the teen years has been the norm for several decades, researchers note that, at the same time, cohorts have delayed starting sex, and in the current cohort of adolescents, the likelihood of sexual activity at any given age is lower than at any time in the past 25 years.

"Policymakers and the media often sensationalize teen sexual behavior, suggesting that adolescents as young as 10 or 11 are increasingly sexually active," said lead author Lawrence Finer. "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."

Studies show that once teens begin sexual activity, many make efforts to protect themselves and partners from pregnancy and STDs. More than 80 percent of 16-year-olds used a method at first sex, and by one year following first sex, 95 percent of those teens had used contraceptives. However, adolescents who initiated sex at 14 or younger were less likely to use contraceptives at first sex and took longer to begin using a method.

The analysis also showed that sex among younger adolescents is frequently involuntary. Thus, statistics show that for those who engaged in sexual activity at a very early age, many may have been pressured to participate in such activities, with 62 percent of 10-year-old females stating that they were coerced into the act.

To carry out their analysis, the authors used newly available public data on sexual initiation (defined here as vaginal intercourse), contraceptive use and pregnancy among American adolescents aged 10-19 from the 2006-2010 National Survey of Family Growth, conducted by the U.S. National Center for Health Statistics, and other sources, according to Health News Digest

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