A recent government survey conducted by the CDC reports that teens are having less sex than they have had in the past. In fact, the numbers being reported are that teens are having sex up to 6% less than in previous years, shifting from 78% of teens reporting engaging in sexual activity to 72%. This is good news in many ways, but also begs the question as to why?
Based on the research in general, there is no specifically clear answer to this question. We can do a lot of hypothesizing, though, about what may be impacting our young people’s choices to abstain from sex or sexual behaviors. Firstly, we can look to sexual education. Although there have been reports that the education being provided in schools is not fully comprehensive, it is starting earlier, providing a basis of information for our young people. Research demonstrates that the earlier we provide this information to kids, the less likely they are to have indiscriminate, unprotected sex. Maybe that is having a positive, long lasting impact. Additionally, parents are increasingly involved in what kids are doing and what their knowledge base is. This will also be a protective factor for teens in avoiding sex early on. Lastly, teens and young adults may be placing more focus on the other things in their lives: friends, sports, school, jobs, and thus, are making sex less important overall. They just don’t have time to focus on having sex or being involved in relationships.
I also believe that teens are numb to the excitement of sex in many ways. They are inundated by images of sex, which really does reduce the stigma or mystique of it. At the end of the day, it seems less important and less exciting. It does seem counterintuitive, though, that with all of the sex surrounding teens, in shows like Skins, that they are engaging in these behaviors slightly less than in previous years. However, exposure to it may actually cause it to decrease. If you see it in movies and on television, and it looks like it is just not that big a deal, some of the mystery decreases, and the appeal does decrease. This is not necessarily the case for all teens, but can be true for many.
Clearly, there has to be a tie in with the decrease in teen pregnancy too (there would have to be if the amount of sex has reduced, you would think). Recent studies have demonstrated that there has been a recent decline in teen pregnancey. Again, there are lots of questions as to why this is…especially as in some areas of the country, we have seen pregnancy pacts and in one school 11% of the school population was pregnant recently. Teens and young adults are more aware of how to protect themselves from STDs and pregnancy, and, shows like Teen Mom and 16 and Pregnant, may be working effectively as public service announcements regarding how difficult and challenging being a teenager and a mother is, thus helping to decrease the appeal and false hope that being a mom young will fix things in one’s life.
Although the study was conducted by an incredibly reputable outlet, I do have my own skeptical lens by which I look at it. I’m thrilled if teens, in fact, are having sex less. I wonder though, if maybe they weren’t entirely honest, or if the stats look at solely vaginal intercourse not at all sexual acts. Regardless, the findings are promising in that they highlight the increased responsibility being taken by today’s young people. What could be bad about that?
Here’s the link to my segment with Russ Mitchell, from CBS’ The Early Show: