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Adolescents are Less Sexually Active than Perceived: A Study

Apr 01, 2013 02:10 PM EDT
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Perceptions that young adolescents in the United States are more sexually active today than in the past is largely unfounded, according to a report in the April issue of the journal Pediatrics.

In all, the study states that only 0.6 percent of 10-year-olds, 1.1 percent of 11-year-olds and 2.4 percent of 12-year-olds reported sexual activity. These numbers held for both girls and boys.

What's more, the study further showed that among those who have had sex, many of them said they were forced to do so. This was especially true for the girls: 62 percent of those who had sex by age 10 said it was coerced. For those who were 11 this number was 50 percent and, finally, 23 percent for 12-year-olds.

"When you look at some polling data of the general public, there are chunks of Americans who believe most (young teens) are having sex," lead author and director of domestic research for the Guttmacher Institute, Lawrence Finer said, according to USA Today. "But it was never the case ... and these are long-term patterns." 

There has never been a point in time in the last 50 years, Finer said, that more than 10 percent of girls have had sex by the time they turn 14.

As the teens age, these numbers increase, though the majority of people still maintain their virginity until about 17 to 19 years old, according to the 2006 - 2010 National Survey of Family Growth conducted by the National Center for Health Statistics.

Specifically, only 5.4 percent of 13-year-olds, 11 percent of 14-year-olds, 20 percent of 15-year-olds and 33 percent of 16-year-olds report having had sex. 

What's more, 25 percent of both males and females have not had sex by age 20.

Importantly, the report found that contraceptive use is common among sexually active teens, with rates hovering around the 80 percent mark for individuals as young as 15. However, this number decreases with age.

Knowing this, Finer stressed that 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."

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