Teen Sex
June 15, 2013
Are American teenagers becoming more sexually responsible?

Despite risky teenage sexual behavior portrayed in the movies and on television and the Internet, studies show that teenagers are being more sexually responsible than in earlier decades. The percentage of teens having sex has been declining, teens are delaying having sex until later, the use of birth control is up and teen birth rates are down. “In essence we’re making good progress,” says John Santelli, chairman of the Population and Family Health Department in the School of Public Health at Columbia University. Nevertheless, U.S. teen birth rates are still higher than in other developed countries, where teenage contraception use is not as controversial as it is here. And young people, ages 15-24, account for half of the nearly 20 million new cases of sexually transmitted diseases reported each year.

Girls displaying “fake” pregnancies demonstrate in
            New York City’s Times Square on May 3, 2011, to mark National Teen Pregnancy Awareness
            Month. (Getty Images/Jason Kempin)   Girls displaying “fake” pregnancies demonstrate in New York City’s Times Square on May 3, 2011, to mark National Teen Pregnancy Awareness Month. Studies show teen birth rates declined to an all-time low in 2011. (Getty Images/Jason Kempin)

The rise of “sexting” and “hook-up” culture among teens — along with the high level of sexual content in their favorite music, movies and Internet videos — suggests that American teens are hyper-sexualized. But the latest research on teenage sexuality says otherwise.

Today’s teenagers are delaying having sex, on average until age 17, according to the latest report on teen sexual activity from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). 1 And when they do have sex for the first time, they’re using birth control, the study found. “What tends to be visible in the media is not representative of average teen behavior in America,” says Gladys Martinez, the report’s lead author and a demographer with the CDC’s National Center for Health Statistics. “Our data is nationally representative. It’s not just the behavior of people we see on T.V.”

RELATED REPORTS