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Studies Reveal Teen Behaviors, Attitudes Toward Sex

Two studies released today focus on adolescent sexual attitudes and behavior, finding that 20 percent of teens under the age of 15 have had their first sexual experience; 30 percent of young people experience pressure to have sex; and more than 75 percent of teens wanted more information about sexual health. The National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy report, entitled “14 and Younger: The Sexual Behavior of Young Adolescents,” used three nationally representative data sets to determine that almost 20 percent of teens aged 14 and younger have had sex. “This is a wake-up call that the efforts that we make toward young people have to start early, that teachers looking at a class of 13-year-olds can’t assume they’re in a state of latent innocence,” Sarah brown, director of the National Campaign, told the New York Times. Teens who had sex at such a young age were also more likely to engage in other risky behaviors, such as drinking alcohol and smoking cigarettes or marijuana. Between 50 and 75 percent of teens 14 and younger report using contraception the first time they had sex.

The Kaiser Family Health Foundation also released a report today based on their “National Survey of Adolescents and Young Adults: Sexual Health Knowledge, Attitudes, and Experiences.” The survey found that teens are very concerned about their sexual health and want more knowledge and about sex and sexual health, including information about contraception, sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and HIV/AIDS, and information about STI and HIV testing. The survey also found that many teens are misinformed about sex and sexual health: one in five teens are unaware that STIs can be transmitted through oral sex; one in five teens believe that birth control pills protect against HIV and STIs; and 21 percent of males and 10 percent of females think that having sex occasionally without a condom is “not that big of a deal.” The Kaiser study found that 61 percent of young people aged 15-24 believed that abstinence “is a nice idea, but nobody really does” it.

The National Campaign study also surveyed parent behaviors and knowledge of teen sexual activity. Only a third of parents of sexually experienced 14-year-olds were aware of their child’s sexual activity. In addition, though 65 percent of parents reported discussions with their children about sex and contraception, only 41 percent of youth reported such talks. According to the report, 90 percent of parents/caregivers thought their children would feel comfortable discussing sex with them, while only around two-thirds of teens reported feeling those comfort levels.

Sources:

National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy report 5/20/03; Kaiser report 5/20/03; New York Times 5/20/03; Kaiser Daily Reproductive Health report 5/20/03