Newly released data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suggests that today’s high schoolers may not be as eager to have sex as their equivalents from 10 years ago used to be.
Based on the CDC’s National Youth Risk Behavior Survey for the year 2015, only 41.2 percent of high school students in the United States already had sexual intercourse at the time of the survey. This represented a drop from the 46.8 percent figure from the 2005 edition of the survey and the continuation of a trend where present-day teenagers are less likely to have sex than those from previous generations. As noted by Gizmodo, the 1995 survey saw 53 percent of high school students admitting to having sexual intercourse.
Commenting on the reasons why teenage sex rates in the U.S. have gone down over the past decade, the CDC credited the introduction of “medically accurate” sex education lessons in 2010. According to the Daily Mail, federal schools had previously centered on discouraging students from having premarital sex, prior to the launch of the new curriculum.
“Early initiation of sexual activity is associated with having more sexual partners, not using condoms, sexually transmitted infection and pregnancy during adolescence,” wrote the CDC.
Additionally, Gizmodo wrote that researchers have offered several theories seeking to explain why sexual intercourse is not as appealing to teenagers as it used to be, such as the increasing prevalence of smartphones “killing teen romance.” In its report, the CDC wrote that there were other variables that might have been in play, including “profound shifts” in technology, and the increased involvement of teenagers in social media.
Although the CDC’s report showed an overall decline in teenage sexual activity in all but two of the 29 states covered in its survey, the biggest decline came among black high school students, as 48.5 percent said they had sex in the 2015 survey, compared to 67.6 percent a decade prior. Regardless of race, ninth-graders were substantially less sexually active in 2015, with only 10 percent of boys and 8.6 percent of girls admitting to having sex; this was a sharp decline from the 2005 figures, which showed 39.3 percent of male and 29.3 percent of female ninth-graders already having had sex.
The new findings add to previous research that suggested so-called “risky” behaviors in teenagers have been on the decline in recent years. A study published in the journal Child Development in September 2017 and cited by Time suggested that today’s teenagers, when compared to those from earlier decades, tend to shy away more from “adult” activities such as sexual intercourse, drinking alcohol, driving cars, or even going out on their own or dating. In all, the study posited that today’s 18-year-olds act more in line with 15-year-olds from previous decades, regardless of demographics.
Commenting on the CDC’s findings, Guttmacher Institute principal research scientist Laura Lindberg said that the bulk of the decline in teenage sexual activity took place between 2013 and 2015. While she believes that the survey’s results are largely positive, especially the reduced sexual activity of present-day ninth and 10th-graders, she told the Washington Post that the declines in 2015 were “very large,” begging the question of whether the survey is too skewed to have some actual value.
“We need to see if this is a short term blip or this is something that is going to continue,” Lindberg cautioned.
At the present, Lindberg believes that the CDC’s new report still shows a large percentage of teenagers having sex as of the time they graduate from high school. She said that it’s important parents and educators “do what [they] can to encourage delay and support healthy choices” when it comes to teenage sexual activity.