Young Teens Not Having Sex

Posted: April 2, 2013 by Ellion hossain in News
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Sexual activity among younger teens is rare, and those having sex at 10 or younger are usually victims of coercion, according to the Guttmacher Institute.

Among those born in the years from 1984 to 1993, only 1% of girls reported having sexual intercourse when they were 11 years old or younger, according to the research published online in Pediatrics. Only 2% of 12-year-olds and 5% of 13-year-olds reported having sexual intercourse.

If children younger than 10 reported having sexual intercourse, it typically was coerced or nonconsensual, according to Lawrence B. Finer, PhD, and Jesse M. Philbin, BA, of the Guttmacher Institute, a reproductive rights organization based in New York City.

“Concerns about substantial levels of sexual activity among young adolescents are unfounded, and the pregnancy rate (indeed, the absolute number of pregnancies) among these girls is vanishingly small,” the authors wrote.

Sexual activity and pregnancy are rare among 10-, 11-, and 12-year-olds, and sex is more likely to be nonconsensual, the authors said. “This arguably represents a different public health issue than sex among older teens, who have a greater need for contraception,” they wrote.

Younger Teens Rarely Studied

Although rates of teen pregnancy have declined in recent decades, “teen sex remains a prominent bogeyman, as there is a broad public perception that a substantial proportion of young adolescents are sexually active,” the authors noted in their introduction. Previous studies have looked at reproductive activity among teens 14 and younger, but those studies date from the late 1990s and “none of them presented information on the youngest adolescents (those 12 and younger),” they wrote.

To clarify the issue further, the authors looked at data from the National Survey of Family Growth. The survey is “a nationally representative survey of women and men aged 15–44, conducted by the National Center for Health Statistics, that is arguably the best source of information on sexual activity, partnership patterns, contraceptive use, and childbearing in the United States,” they explained.

The investigators initially evaluated data from 3,242 females and 3,104 males born during the years 1984 to 1993, who responded to the survey in the years 2006 to 2010. But to further examine long-term trends related to first sexual intercourse, they also separated certain groups of female respondents from that survey and earlier surveys into birth cohorts from 1939 to 1991 and assessed the ages by which 10%, 25%, 50%, 75%, and 90% of each cohort had had sex.

Using that data, the authors determined that the median age for first-time sex in the U.S. over the past 50 years has not fallen beneath age 17.

Most Older Teens Not Sexually Active

Looking at the data from the 2006-2010 respondents, the authors found that at age 15, the incidence of first-time sexual intercourse increased, but sexually active teens remained in the minority: 19% of 15-year-old girls and 32% of 16-year-old girls reported having sexual intercourse. In general, younger generations put off having sex later in life than their elders born in the 1970s, they said.

By age 20, some 26% of all women had not had sex, they wrote.

Figures for young males were also low, although slightly higher than for females:

  • About 2% of boys had had sex by age 12
  • About 5% and 10% of boys by age 13 and 14, respectively, had had sex
  • In older teens, 22% of 15-year-old boys, and 35% of 16-year-old males had had sex, just a few percent higher than girls
  • By age 20, the proportion of men who had not had sex was the same as it was for women

For 10-year-old girls, 62% reported sexual initiation was nonconsensual or coerced; for 11-year-olds, it was 50%; and for 12-year-olds, it was 23%. The numbers dropped considerably at age 13 and 14, when 7% reported that first sex was not consensual. By age 17 or older, fewer than 5% reported sexual initiation was forced.

Rates of sexual coercion were limited to females, as the male data did not include the necessary variable, the authors said.

Contraception Use Higher in Older Teens

The authors noted prior studies that showed an association between using contraception at first sex and using contraception consistently later. Contraception included hormonal and barrier methods, withdrawal, and periodic abstinence.

Of girls age 12 or younger, only 52% used contraception at sexual initiation. Among 13- and 14-year-olds, contraceptive use remained scant as well.

But by age 15, the authors wrote, contraceptive use reflected that of females who put off sex until later teenage years: 80% reported using contraception the same month they first had sex, as did 85% of 17- to 18-year-olds.

Pregnancy Rare in Younger Teens

Pregnancies among 12-year-olds is “minuscule” and among 11-year-olds it is “exceedingly rare,” they said. Only one in about 7,000 of 12-year-olds gets pregnant each year. Most pregnancies (excluding miscarriages) among girls 13 and younger end in abortion, while in girls 14 and older, more pregnancies result in birth. For girls 17 and older, twice as many pregnancies end in birth as abortion, they wrote.

Because first-time sex among younger teens is “frequently nonconsensual,” the authors said, “individual pregnancies to girls this young are significant events, [and] they arguably represent a different public health concern than the broader issue of pregnancies to older teens.”

Among those young teens, they said, “lower rates of contraceptive use at first sex are probably due to their lower likelihood of having information about and access to contraceptive methods.”

But it is older teens, the substantial proportions of 15- and 16-year-old girls “who are most at risk for experiencing an unwanted teenage pregnancy, and who are therefore most affected by restrictions, legal or practical, to using contraception.”

The study was limited by retrospective reporting by respondents, the authors said, but memory of the “highly salient events” should be accurate. The proportion of young adolescents whose first sexual experience was coerced might be higher than the author’s data, they said. The survey method that asked if first sexual intercourse was nonconsensual has been susceptible to underreporting, they said.

Of greater concern, they said, was the underreporting of current sexual behavior, influenced by respondents’ bias for social desirability. Also, measures of sexual activity and contraception were limited to the first instance of each.

The researchers said pediatricians and health professionals should screen for unwanted sexual activity among patients of all ages, particularly younger adolescents. Healthcare providers should also inform young adolescents about contraception, as well.

“Teaching young adolescents about contraceptive methods and prescribing or offering methods before they are likely to become sexually active is prudent,” they said. “No study of sex education programs to date has found evidence that providing young people with sexual and reproductive health information and education results in increased sexual risk-taking.”


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