Trends in the Well-Being of America's Children and Youth, 1997. SD 4.1 Sexually experienced teens

04/01/1997

Sexual experience, and particularly age at first intercourse, represent critical indicators of the risk of pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases. Youth who begin having sex at younger ages are exposed to these risks over a longer period of time. Because sexual intercourse during the teen years, especially first intercourse, is often unplanned,36 it is also often unprotected by contraception.37 In addition, research has shown that youth who have early sexual experience are more likely at later ages to have more sexual partners and more frequent intercourse.38

Trends over the past several decades show that increasing proportions of teens are sexually experienced defined as ever having had sexual intercourse (see Table SD 4.1.A).

Trends Among Sexually Experienced Female Teens. Among female adolescents of all ages, the percentage who were sexually experienced has increased over time (see Table SD 4.1.A). For example, the percentage of 18-year-old females who were sexually experienced increased from 27 percent for the 1958-1960 cohort, to 35 percent for the 1970-1972 cohort, and to 52 percent for the 1985-1987 cohort. Cohorts are defined as those females who turned 20 in the specific time period presented.

Trends Among Sexually Experienced Male Teens. The percentage of male teens who were sexually experienced has also increased for male adolescents over age 14. For example, the percentage of 18-year-old males who were sexually experienced increased from 55 percent for the 1970-1972 cohort to 64 percent for the 1985-1987 cohort (see Table SD 4.1.A).

Differences by Age. Age is the most important correlate of teen sexual experience. By age 13, just under 1 in 10 males and only 1 in 50 females were sexually experienced, but by age 20, about 3 in 4 females and 4 in 5 males were sexually experienced (see Figure SD 4.1). By the late teen years, most teens are sexually experienced; however it is important to note that not all teens are sexually experienced. Among the 1985-1987 cohort of youth, nearly half of adolescent females and more than one-third of adolescent males had not had intercourse by age 18 (see Table SD 4.1.A). The pattern of more teenagers having had sex as age increases is reflected in the data for 1995 as well. Data from the Youth Risk Behavior Survey, a survey of students rather than all adolescents, show that, in the 9th grade, 37 percent of students report having had sexual intercourse. This percentage rises with each grade and reaches 66 percent by the 12th grade39 (see Table SD 4.1.B).

Differences by Gender. Until very recently, more teen males than females reported having had intercourse by a given age. Data from the 1985-1987 cohort suggest that the proportion of teen males at each year of age who report having sex was roughly equal to the number of sexually experienced teen females who are one year older (see Table SD 4.1.A). Caution should be exercised in interpreting these differences, however, since the data for males and females come from different surveys. Data for students from the Youth Risk Behavior Survey indicate that in 1995, gender differences were minimal or nonexistent, except for ninth grade (see Table SD 4.1.B).

Differences by Race.40 Black students are more likely than white and Hispanic students to have had their first sexual experience while still in high school (see Table SD 4.1.B). Specifically, in 1995:
 

  • 49 percent of both male and female white students reported having had sexual intercourse;
  • 62 percent of Hispanic male students and 53 percent of Hispanic female students reported having had sexual intercourse;
  • 81 percent of black male students and 73 percent of black female students reported having had sexual intercourse.

 

Figure SD 4.1  
Percentage of Females and Males Who Have Had Intercourse by Each Age, Cohort Aged 20 in 1985-1987 

SD4_1.GIF

Source: Alan Guttmacher Institute. (1994). Sex and Americas Teenagers, New York, NY: Alan Guttmacher Institute. Based on data from the 1988 National Survey of Family Growth and the 1991 Survey of Men. Caution should be used in making direct comparisons of data from different surveys.
 
 

Table SD 4.1.A 
Sexually Experienced Teens: Percentage of Teens Who Have Had Intercourse by Each Age, Cohortsa Aged 20 in 1958-1960, 1970-1972, and 1985-1987

         
 
FEMALES Who Turned Age 20 in:b
 
 
Ages
1958-1960
1970-1972
1985-1987
 
13
1
0
2
 
14
2
1
5
 
15
3
4
10
 
16
8
9
21
 
17
16
20
36
 
18
27
35
52
 
19
46
53
66
 
20
61
68
76
         
 
Males Who Turned Age 20 in:b
 
 
Ages
1958-1960
1970-1972
1985-1987
 
13
--
11
9
 
14
--
15
13
 
15
--
20
27
 
16
--
30
41
 
17
--
41
52
 
18
--
55
64
 
19
--
67
75
 
20
--
74
80
         
Note: aCohorts are defined as those individuals who turned twenty-years-old within the specified time period.  
bData are based on females aged 30-32 and 42-44 in the 1982 National Survey of Family Growth (NSFG) and aged 21-23 and 36-38 in the 1988 NSFG and males aged 21-23 and 36-38 in the 1991 Survey of Men.  

Source: Alan Guttmacher Institute, 1994. Sex and Americas Teenagers, New York, NY. Alan Guttmacher Institute.

 
 

Table SD 4.1.B 
Sexually Experienced Teens: Percentage of High School Students, Grades 9-12, Who Reported Ever Having Sexual Intercourse, by Sex, Race/Ethnicity, and Grade, 1995
           
     
Total
Male
Female
     
 
 
 
Total
53
54
52
           
  Grade
    9th
37
41
32
    10th
48
50
46
    11th
59
57
60
    12th
66
67
66
           
  Race/Ethnic Group
    White, Non-Hispanic
49
49
49
    Black, Non-Hispanic
73
81
67
    Hispanic
58
62
53
           
Source: Kann, L., Warren, C.W., Harris, W.A., Collins, J.L., Williams, B.I., Ross, J.G., Kolbe, L.J. Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance United States, 1995. Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, Vol. 45, No. SS-4, 1996.

 

36 Lowenstein, G. and Furstenberg, F.F. 1991. "Is teenage sexual behavior rational?" Journal of Applied Social Psychology 21(12): 957-986.

37 Forrest, J. D., and Singh, S. 1990. "The sexual and reproductive behavior of American women, 1982-1988." Family Planning Perspectives 22 (5): 206-214.

38 Koyle, P., Jensen, L., Olsen, J., and Cundick, B. 1989. "Comparison of sexual behaviors among adolescents having an early, middle, and late first intercourse experience." Youth and Society 20(4): 461-475.

39 Direct comparison with other years is not possible as grade in school does not accurately reflect age and data from the Youth Risk Behavior Survey only includes teens in school.

40 Estimates for whites and blacks exclude Hispanics of those races.
 

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