Quarter of US teens, young adults are virgins

Breathe easier, parents. Teen and young 20-something Americans are holding on to their virginity longer than many thought, with over a quarter of telling a survey saying they've never had sex.

In a popular culture saturated with sexual permissiveness, raunchy reality TV, risque imagery, and tawdry tabloid fodder, the latest findings buck the conventional wisdom that America's youth has been busier than ever between the sheets.

Not so, according to the quaintly named National Survey of Family Growth, which found that among people age 15-24, 29 percent of females and 27 percent of males have had no sexual contact with another person.

Those figures, released Thursday, were up considerably from the 22 percent of both sexes when the survey was last conducted in 2002.

"Obviously, many teens have embraced the value of delaying sexual activity," Bill Albert, chief program officer of the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy, said in reacting to the findings.

He said that while peer pressure is a tremendous force among teenagers, their behavior is shaped to a large degree by what they think their friends are doing.

"Consequently, a practical take away from this report is that teens need to clearly understand that not everyone is 'doing it,' - some are, some aren't, and some are probably lying about it."

He said it also underscores the need for a two-part public health strategy - one that encourages teens to delay sex, while insisting that those who are sexually active use contraception.

The United States has seen "extraordinary declines" in teen pregnancy - about 40 percent reduction since the 1990s - and "this impressive progress has been driven by a combination of less sex and more contraception," Albert said.

The abstinence boost was among a slew of revealing figures in the survey conducted by the Department of Health and Human Services between 2006 and 2008. It interviewed 13,495 Americans age 15-44 from a wide range of racial and economic backgrounds.

The survey showed women were twice as likely as men (13% versus 5.2%) to have had same-sex contact in their lifetimes. It said most adults were monogamous, but that far more men (21%) reported having at least 15 sex partners in their lifetimes than did women (8.0%).

It also broached the sensitive topic of oral sex among teens. The latest figures - among 15-to-17-year-olds, 7% of females and 10% of males report engaging in oral sex but no intercourse - support the theory that youths have oral sex to preserve their virginity or because they consider it safer than vaginal sex.

The latter belief is misplaced, suggests the survey, which noted several studies that have documented oral sex transmission of sexually transmitted infections, and that notably "an increasing proportion of cases of genital herpes in the United States are being attributed to oral sex."

mlm/jkb

 

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