Teens and sex. Sex and teens. How do you relate the two in your mind? Many parents and adults "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.
Are their gut instincts correct, though? Turns out they’re not. According to a federal study reported in the Los Angeles Times, fewer teens and young adults are having sex than in the past. The study did not examine the reasons behind the decline–"that’s the $100,000 question," commented Albert.
Experts have been weighing in on the topic since the study came out. Some say an emphasis on abstinence may be the underlying factor. Others think better awareness and more concern about sexually transmitted diseases may have done the trick–possibly a result of parents who watched the AIDS epidemic making sure their own children were informed. The idea that young people today are simply less inclined to try drugs and sex than previous generations is another notion experts have entertained.
For the study published March 3, researchers conducted interviews with about 5,300 people between the ages of 15 and 24. The result seems small but is actually significant, both statistically and sociologically: the percentage of this age demographic who said they had had some kind of sexual contact dropped from 78% to 72% in the last ten years.
Other studies have surveyed sexual behavior, but this one is considered the largest and most reliable. Albert even called it "the gold standard" of studies.
Researchers have found it difficult to look for trends related to this topic because studies carried out before 2002 did not collect as much data about various types of sex as they do today, according to Anjani Chandra of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
One thing we can be sure of, however, is that rates of vaginal intercouse among never-married teens have been steadily decreasing since 1988, which is in congruence with the CDC’s studies showing an overall decline in teen pregnancy. Albert explained that since this trend started in the late ’80s, the abstinence-only sex education tactic, which was a huge initiative during the 2001-2009 George W. Bush presidency, is probably not to thank.
Experts still contend that the biggest factor influencing the practices of young people is what their parents teach them and what their peers are doing. So don’t neglect the sex talk with your kids!