Decline In Teen Sex Rate Stable Since 2001

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Teen Sex Rate

The decline in the percentage of teenagers having sexual intercoursehas stalled after reaching a plateau in 2001, according to a newanalysis of data from a nationwide CDC survey, the Washington Postreports. The data were taken from the Youth Risk Behavior Survey, anationally representative survey of about 13,000 students in gradesnine through 12 that CDC conducts biannually, the Post reports.

According to the Post,CDC last year when releasing survey data from 2005 primarily focused onthe general shift in sexual behavior from 1991 to 2005. An annualfederal report on the state of children in the U.S., released earlierthis month, also focused on the shift from 1991 to 2005 (Stein, Washington Post, 7/22). According to that report, released by the Federal Interagency Forum on Child and Family Statistics,47% of high school students, or 6.7 million, reported having had sexualintercourse in 2005, compared with 54% in 1991. The rate of high schoolstudents reporting having sex has remained unchanged since 2003.Sixty-three percent of those who reported having sex during athree-month period in 2005 said they used condoms, compared with 46% in1991, the report showed (Kaiser Daily Women's Health Policy Report, 7/13).

In response to a request from the Post,CDC analyzed data from 2001 to 2005 to confirm statistically that thepercentage of teens having sex during that period had stalled, for allgrades and sexes and across all racial groups, the Post reports.The agency found that "over that time period, there were no changes inthe overall percent of high school students who had ever had sex,"Laura Kann, who leads the CDC survey project, said, adding, "It hasdecreased over the whole time from 1991, but there's been no changesince 2001. There was flatness for all the subgroups for all thevariables."

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According to the Post, researchers are awaiting the results from this year's survey to determine whether the plateau has continued.

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Experts are unclear why the rate has leveled off, but they say it couldbe the result of a combination of factors, including increasingcomplacency among youth about HIV/AIDS and the possibility that some"irreducible portion of the teenage population can never be dissuadedfrom having sex," the Post reports.

"At a certain point, it becomes really hard to change basic human behaviors," John Santelli, who studies teenagers at Columbia University,said, adding, "I think what we're seeing is the limits of the emphasison abstinence as the primary message." However, Leslee Unruh of the National Abstinence Clearinghouse,said, "We need to increase abstinence education and give more dollarsto abstinence education. It is the healthiest program we have for youngpeople."

Some experts are concerned that the leveling off inthe teen sex rate might "foreshadow a new upsurge in sexual activity,which could cause teen pregnancy and birth rates to climb again," the Post reports. Michael Resnick, a teen health expert at the University of Minnesota, said, "My concern is that this plateau is ... a harbinger of a reversal of these positive trends." According to the Post,the survey also indicates that increases in condom use also might bewaning. "It's not showing as strong of a stabilizing trend, but it'sdefinitely slowing," David Landry of the Guttmacher Institute said (Washington Post, 7/22).

Reprinted with permission from kaisernetwork.org. You can view theentire Kaiser DailyWomen's Health Policy Report, search the archives, and sign up for emaildelivery at kaisernetwork.org/email. The Kaiser Daily Women's Health Policy Report is published for kaisernetwork.org, afree service of The Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation.

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