UK teenagers far less likely to have underage sex than a decade ago, study shows

Compared to children of the Eighties and Nineties sexual experiences of those born at turn of millennium ‘paints a rather different picture’

Alex Matthews-King
Health Correspondent
Friday 21 June 2019 07:01 BST
Just 3.5 per cent of 14-year-olds admit to having had sexual intercourse or oral sex
Just 3.5 per cent of 14-year-olds admit to having had sexual intercourse or oral sex (Getty/iStock)

British teenagers are far less likely to have sex while underage than those born just a decade earlier, a study has found.

One in 30 (3.2 per cent) “Generation Z” 14-year-olds had engaged in “heavy” intimate activities, including oral sex and penetrative intercourse, the University College London research found.

“Previous studies have shown us that 30 per cent of those born in the 1980s and 1990s had sex before the age of 16, and that among those born in the early 1990s a little under one in five had done so by age 15,” said Professor Yvonne Kelly, lead author of the research published in the Journal of Adolescent Health.

But this study, albeit in a slightly younger group, “paints a rather different picture of this latest generation”, she added.

“Compared with previous generations it looks like fewer 14-year-olds are having sex,” she told The Independent. “We know from other studies that rates of teenage pregnancy have dramatically reduced in recent decades too.

The researchers used data from the Millennium Cohort Study, which is following 11,000 people in the UK born between September 2000 and 2002.

They also asked about less intimate acts, which it said form the “pathway” to sexual intercourse. They found that 59 per cent of respondents said they had engaged in “light” intimacy, such as hugging, kissing or holding hands with a partner.

Around 7.5 per cent of the respondents said they had engaged in “moderate” intimate activity, described by researchers as “under clothes fondling”.

The findings show the importance of comprehensive sex and relationship education, the authors said. Previous research suggests that only one fifth of girls and a third of boys are “sexually competent” at this age, meaning they both parties felt “ready”, enjoyed it, and weren’t pressured in to sex.

This is important because a negative first sexual experience “could affect them for the rest of their lives”, Professor Kelly said.

The rise of smartphones and social media has led to fears that online relationships are squeezing out the traditional teenage window for experimentation.

NHS data has also shown that British schoolchildren are less likely to drink or take drugs than ever before and some research suggests they now prefer “family time to sex”.

“Experimentation and pushing boundaries is all part and parcel of growing up,” Professor Kelly said.

“Young people who push many boundaries at once – those who drink, smoke or stay out late, for instance – are more likely to engage in early sexual activity.”

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