Teenage Sexual Behavior

Figures on teenage sexual behavior show one in five American adolescents have sex before the age of 15. There have been suggestions promiscuous teenage sexual behavior, dubbed the "hookup culture", is the modern day equivalent of the sexual revolution of the 1960s. Terri Messman-Moore, a psychology professor at Miami University in Oxford, explained: "Sex before marriage, multiple partners, these things are more accepted now.

Although young people have access to sexual healthcare in every state and are legally entitled to some level of confidentiality about their sexual activity, one in four will contract a sexually transmitted disease (STD). The Center for Disease Control and Prevention reported 65 million Americans live with an incurable STD and 15 million new infections occur every year. Two-thirds of these 15 million are aged between 15 and 24. The most common STD is the Human Papillomavirus, which causes more than 90 percent of all cervical cancers. Although the HPV vaccine is available to prevent teenage girls from catching the virus, many parents refuse to have their daughter vaccinated as they fear it will encourage her to become promiscuous.

Although the teen birth rate reached an all-time low in 2009 falling to 39 births per 1,000 girls aged 15 to 19 (the lowest rate recorded since health officials started tracking data in 1940), almost 750,000 American adolescents become pregnant each year, making the United States the country with the highest rate of teen pregnancy and birth in the developed world despite the availability of sex education and the availability of contraception. The vast majority of teenage pregnancies are unplanned according to the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy. Under half of teenage moms finish high school and only two percent who give birth before their 18th birthday will finish college before turning 30.

In the United States, minors will not be granted an abortion without parental consent and often have to get permission from a judge to have the termination. According to the Guttmacher report, there has been a marked change in teenage sexual behavior with regards to abortions. Statistics showed between 1990 and 2006 there was a significant drop in the teen abortion rate, with 14.6 percent of white teens and 6.4 percent of Hispanic teens having terminations, although the number of African American teens undergoing abortions has remained about 41 per cent. The decline in the number of teenage births and abortions has been attributed to programs such as MTV's gritty reality show 16 and Pregnant which was watched by over 2 million viewers when it first aired in 2009 and chronicles the stark realities of teenage sexual behavior.

Social commentators have also suggested popular culture has played an important role in challenging teenage sexual behaviors. The announcement that Britney Spears' sister Jamie Lynn, then 16, was pregnant in 2007 caused shockwaves throughout America as did the high-profile pregnancy of 17-year-old Bristol Palin, the daughter of politician Sarah Palin, in 2008. Although Bristol was a teen mom, she began working with the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy to inform young people about the negative consequences of teenage sexual behavior.

Although today's teenagers are more sexually aware than generations before them, one of the most significant factors in the change of American teenage sexual behavior is the growing popularity of the abstinence movement. True Love Waits, a Christian group that promotes sexual abstinence outside of marriage for teenagers and college students had over 102,000 young people sign-up to become celibate until they marry during its first year in 1993. The enduring popularity of the movement has been helped by high profile pledges from The Jonas Brothers. In a study by the Discovery Health Channel's program Teen Sex, researchers discovered one in three American teens are waiting until marriage to have intercourse. However an Oxford University review of 13 U.S abstinence programs involving over 15,000 people found they do not stop risky sexual behavior or help in the prevention of unwanted pregnancy. Surveys into teenage sexual behavior show as many of 55 percent of college students who claim to be abstinent had performed non-penetrative sex acts, which can also transmit STDs.

There are two forms of sex education in American schools. The Kaiser Family Foundation found 58 percent taught ‘Abstinence Plus', which covers abstinence as a positive choice but also teaches about contraception and avoidance of STDs. The ‘Abstinence Only', program teaches teens to be sexually abstinent until marriage, with no information given on contraception.

Selected full-text books and articles on this topic

Adolescent Romantic Relations and Sexual Behavior: Theory, Research, and Practical Implications
Paul Florsheim.
Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 2003
Forbidden Fruit: Sex & Religion in the Lives of American Teenagers
Mark D. Regnerus.
Oxford University Press, 2007
Changes over Time in Teenage Sexual Relationships: Comparing the High School Class of 1950, 1975, and 2000
Caron, Sandra L.; Moskey, Eilean G.
Adolescence, Vol. 37, No. 147, Fall 2002
Parenting Practices and Adolescent Sexual Behavior: A Longitudinal Study
Bersamin, Melina; Todd, Michael; Fisher, Deborah A.; Hill, Douglas L.; Grube, Joel W.; Walker, Samantha.
Journal of Marriage and Family, Vol. 70, No. 1, February 2008
Demographic Differences in Adolescents' Sexual Attitudes and Behaviors, Parent Communication about Sex, and School Sex Education
Tobey, Jacquelyn; Hillman, Stephen B.; Anagurthi, Claudia; Somers, Cheryl L.
Electronic Journal of Human Sexuality, Vol. 14, Annual 2011
Adolescent Sexuality: Disentangling the Effects of Family Structure and Family Context
Davis, Erin Calhoun; Friel, Lisa V.
Journal of Marriage and Family, Vol. 63, No. 3, August 2001
Does Source of Sex Education Predict Adolescents' Sexual Knowledge, Attitudes, and Behaviors?
Somers, Cheryl L.; Gleason, Jamie H.
Education, Vol. 121, No. 4, Summer 2001
Is Earlier Sex Education Harmful? an Analysis of the Timing of School-Based Sex Education and Adolescent Sexual Behaviours
Somers, Cheryl L.; Eaves, Matt W.
Research in Education, No. 67, May 2002
Oral Sex among Teenagers: Research, Discourse, and Education
McKay, Alexander.
The Canadian Journal of Human Sexuality, Vol. 13, No. 3-4, Fall-Winter 2004
America's Teenagers--Myths and Realities: Media Images, Schooling, and the Social Costs of Careless Indifference
Sharon L. Nichols; Thomas L. Good.
Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 2004
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 4 "The Sex Lives of Teenagers"
The Juvenile Sex Offender
Howard E. Barbaree; William L. Marshall.
Guilford Press, 2006
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