US teens, young adults 'doing it' less, study says

Mar 03, 2011 By MIKE STOBBE and CARLA K. JOHNSON , AP Medical Writers

Fewer teens and young adults are having sex, a government survey shows, and theories abound for why they're doing it less. Experts say this generation may be more cautious than their predecessors, more aware of sexually spread diseases. Or perhaps emphasis on abstinence in the past decade has had some influence.

Or maybe they're just too busy.

"It's not even on my radar," said 17-year-old Abbey King of Hinsdale, Ill., a competitive swimmer who starts her day at 5 a.m. and falls into bed at 10:30 p.m. after swimming, school, weight lifting, running, more swimming, homework and a volunteer gig working with service dogs for the disabled.

The study, released Thursday, is based on interviews of about 5,300 young people, ages 15 to 24. It shows the proportion in that age group who said they'd never had oral, vaginal or anal sex rose in the past decade from 22 percent to about 28 percent.

The findings are sure to surprise some parents who see skin and lust in the media and worry that sex is 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," said Bill Albert, chief program officer for the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy.

There are other surveys of sexual behavior, but this is considered the largest and most reliable. "It's the gold standard," Albert said.

Health scientist Anjani Chandra of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention described the decline in sex as small but significant. She declined to speculate on the reasons. It's difficult to look for a trend earlier than 2002 because previous surveys did not gather as much detail about various types of sex, she added.

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

That the trend began in the late 1980s seems to undermine the idea that abstinence-only sex education - heavily emphasized during the 2001-2009 presidency of George W. Bush - is the explanation, Albert said.

But it is possible those messages contributed, he added.

Comprehensive sex education - which includes abstinence but also teaches contraception and safer sex skills - didn't go away during the Bush years, said Elizabeth Schroeder, executive director of Answer, a national sex education organization at Rutgers University.

"We have been redoubling efforts and it has made an impact on these statistics," Schroeder said.

Sam Dercon, a high school junior from Princeton, N.J., agrees that sex education makes a difference. "There's always that fear of something going wrong with consequences that could screw up your future," said Dercon, 17. "I do think that sexual education is taking away that idea that you are invincible."

The leading influence on sexual activity among young adults is what parents teach and what peers are doing, experts said. And for whatever reason, smaller proportions are "doing it" than in the past.

King, the busy Illinois teen, said she broke up with a boyfriend because "we didn't have time to hang out as much as we wanted to. We were both swimmers and the majority of the time we saw each other was at practice."

She is on the junior board for Robert Crown Center for Health Education, a nonprofit organization that teaches sex ed to students in the Chicago area.

She sees sex, alcohol, smoking and drugs as distractions to her goal of getting a college scholarship in swimming, she said.

"This generation is very focused on their future and not necessarily getting laid," agreed Washington, D.C.-based sex educator Yvonne Fulbright.

But she also suggested that some young men aren't making time for relationships.

"Some guys, at the end of the day, they'd rather channel their energy into music, playing their guitar or playing computer games," Fulbright said. "That's immediate gratification. People forget it takes work to woo somebody and keep her happy."

The study showed that 27 percent of young men and 29 percent of young women reported no sexual contact.

It looked at older adults, too. It was based on in-person interviews of about 13,500 men and women ages 15 to 44, 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.

Among other findings:

-More than half of young people who had oral sex said they did that before vaginal intercourse; that pattern was much more common in whites than blacks or Hispanics.

-Among young adults, the proportion who had had vaginal or oral sex declined. But the proportion who had anal sex held steady, at about 21 percent.

-For all ages in the study, women were more than twice as likely to have had sex with a same-gender partner than men were. That was true despite the fact that about the same proportion of male and female survey respondents described themselves as homosexual.

The explanation for that finding seems to be that women are much more willing to describe themselves as bisexual, or to at least acknowledge they find others of their gender attractive.

That may have a lot to do with television shows and other pop culture, which at times seems to celebrate woman-on-woman sexual contact, but not the same kind of behavior among men, said Michael Reece, director of Indiana University's Center for Sexual Health Promotion.

"My guess is women are just more likely to feel that's OK," he added.

There is an assumption that sex between females is more common among more educated women, perhaps experimenting with their sexuality during their college years. But the CDC study found that such behavior was more common among less educated women, Chandra said.

Explore further: Pollutants from coal-burning stoves strongly associated with miscarriages in Mongolia

More information: CDC report: http://www.cdc.gov/nchs

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User comments : 22

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panorama
5 / 5 (4) Mar 03, 2011
But the proportion who had anal sex held steady

Now I can sleep at night...
trekgeek1
5 / 5 (8) Mar 03, 2011
Perhaps being exposed to a more sexual culture has made it less taboo. Isn't this what is seen in European countries with respect to alcohol, drugs, and teen pregnancy? When you allow certain behaviors, their prevalence decreases. When sex is an accepted part of human nature, it becomes less fun to do it and more natural. Abstinence only sex ed has been used unsuccessfully for decades. I don't see how all of a sudden it would cause the rates to fall. The only changing variable in the experiment we've seen is a more sexual culture. Let's not forget that most teens spend less time at each others houses and more time socializing via social networks online.
LivaN
4.6 / 5 (11) Mar 04, 2011

majority of teens are actually engaging in sexual intercourse - 72% [snip] The bible is clear on this issue: no sexually immoral person will enter the kingdom of God

You realise that by the above statistics, almost three quarters of the population, by the age of 24, are not going to heaven? Given an average human lifetime, we can then assume 'our creator's' overall failure rate to be more 75%.
Skepticus
5 / 5 (2) Mar 04, 2011
At the beginning of the 80's, the IBM PC and the Net were developed. Then the obesity, lower sperm counts, heart, diabetic and sexual dysfunctions began to take off. Coincidence? or just a result of the distractions and opportunity to physically slack off that the cyberspace offers?
Royale
not rated yet Mar 04, 2011
Totally agreed Skepticus. (Well at least with more recent computer advances. I lost mine at 17, but we had AOL along with the rest of the population at the time). I think with the advent of broadband and smartphone internet you're absolutely correct.
Modernmystic
4.8 / 5 (6) Mar 04, 2011

The bible is clear on this issue: no sexually immoral person will enter the kingdom of God.


I seem to remember it saying something about not judging lest you be judged. I also remember it saying something about Christ dying for our sins.

You saying he didn't do a good enough job to cover it all? He screwed it up somehow so this or that group can't make it in the pearly gates?

We must be reading different Bibles...
TrustTheONE
1 / 5 (3) Mar 04, 2011
No, no We will be judged, with the SAME measure we judge. Its not forbiden to judge, but beware...
Modernmystic
1 / 5 (1) Mar 04, 2011
We may be judged, but I don't have to beware. I'm absolved. I think Christ did a good enough job. I don't think there's anything I can do to add or subtract from him and what he did.

Some Christians have a lot of nerve and pride though and for reasons I can't fathom think otherwise...
panorama
not rated yet Mar 04, 2011
No, no We will be judged, with the SAME measure we judge. Its not forbiden to judge, but beware...

Something tells me that you collect Chick Tracts...

I do, but mainly because I think they're funny and I like Fred Carter's artwork.
TheGhostofOtto1923
4.1 / 5 (17) Mar 04, 2011
Some Christians have a lot of nerve and pride though and for reasons I can't fathom think otherwise...
report abuse quote send PM
Jeez you mean xians have things to argue about?? (Of course they do) -Theyre just more apt to believe their opinions come directly from god, and so must be absolutely correct. What a joke.

The bible is clear on this issue: no sexually immoral person will enter the kingdom of God. .. who created us.
The bible is clear on the issue of 'filling up the earth' with adherents, and the best way to do this is by confining permissible sex to marriage and reproduction. Alternatives to traditional sex are encouraged today because they ALL reduce the chances for population growth.

This is a primary reason why western pops have stabilized. Only religion-mandated overgrowth now threatens the planet.
I'm absolved.
Kevin thinks you arent. How do you know hes not right? (Take your time.)
Royale
1 / 5 (2) Mar 04, 2011
Otto,
Lest we not forget state-regulated overgrowth. Just thinking bout China, it would work better if they didn't have to "throw out" their daughters because of some last-name honor code hullabaloo.
TheGhostofOtto1923
4 / 5 (16) Mar 04, 2011
Otto,
Lest we not forget state-regulated overgrowth. Just thinking bout China, it would work better if they didn't have to "throw out" their daughters because of some last-name honor code hullabaloo.
Indeed. And it is the residual ancient chinese culture which favors sons over daughters, which is the problem in this case is it not? That obsolete religionist culture needs to end. They all do.

And the communists are hard at work in this endeavor, as they are best at it. Which is why china is still communist.
kaasinees
5 / 5 (2) Mar 04, 2011
Let them throw their daughters at me, so i can have beautiful mixed babies.
Royale
5 / 5 (1) Mar 04, 2011
Good further-point Otto, i hadn't even considered religion initially, but you just made my brain churn, and that makes me happy.
Modernmystic
not rated yet Mar 04, 2011
Kevin thinks you arent. How do you know hes not right? (Take your time.)


I missed the part where I care what Kevin thinks, or you. Explain to me why I should...(take your time).
TheGhostofOtto1923
4 / 5 (16) Mar 04, 2011
Kevin thinks you arent. How do you know hes not right? (Take your time.)


I missed the part where I care what Kevin thinks, or you. Explain to me why I should...(take your time).
Stumped you eh? It was a rhetorical question... to make a point you know? That's what you're HERE for, isn't it MM, so I can get to make a POINT about your vapor worship? I think so.

The point being that the structure of your little tiff with the other vapor worshippers is scalable due to it's limitless holy aegis. It is the same discussion that Shia have with Sunni when majids explode. Have at it. Don't make a mess.
Modernmystic
not rated yet Mar 04, 2011
The point being that the structure of your little tiff with the other vapor worshippers is scalable due to it's limitless holy aegis.


So is any philosophical debate...tell anyone the sky is blue lately?
panorama
5 / 5 (2) Mar 04, 2011
It's these conversations that keep me coming back to this website. Thanks for lightening a heavy friday for me.
TheGhostofOtto1923
3.6 / 5 (15) Mar 04, 2011
So is any philosophical debate...tell anyone the sky is blue lately?
Mongols worship the clear blue sky. I would be very careful when explaining to them how you believe your god created it. Or you may just be usurped.

After all it would not be just abstract philo discussion, but something which has the potential to affect the fate of their SOULS and those of their ancestors. Yours too, if you fall for that poop.
beau2am
5 / 5 (1) Mar 05, 2011
hee hee. poop.
ScientistAmauterEnthusiast
not rated yet Mar 05, 2011
hee hee. poop.


Somehow more constructive than the religious debates that go on, and on, and on here :] Poop!
Royale
not rated yet Mar 07, 2011
yep. They're not constructive at all, but I can't help but read and laugh. (and contribute sometimes).

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