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U of M Expert: Pressure to be sexual may be waning

For teenagers, when it comes to sex it can often feel like “everyone is doing it.” But new numbers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) paint a different picture.

In a report released earlier this month, the CDC broke down the latest numbers on young people’s sexual activities. The study, which looked at 6,000 survey responses of young men and women ages 15 to 24, found the following:

  • 72 percent of women and 73 percent of men ages 15 to 24 reported having sexual contact.
  • 66 percent of women and 65 percent of men reported engaging in oral sex, though the rates were higher in older age groups.
  • Girls ages 15 to 19 reported nearly identical percentages of oral sex to vaginal sex (48 percent/47 percent), but boys in the same age group were more likely to engage in oral sex than vaginal sex (49 percent/44 percent)

But according to the University of Minnesota experts, an analysis of the data against earlier surveys from the National Survey of Family Growth (NSFG) suggests the percentage of teenagers of either gender engaging in sexual intercourse is actually down – from 51 percent in 1988 to 43 percent in the 2006-2010 period.

While it isn’t immediately clear why the rates are dropping, the societal message of “wait until you’re ready” appears to be helping.

“You hear more these days about teens waiting until they’re ready, and the message appears to be helping, although there’s still more education we need to do,” said Bean Robinson, Ph.D., associate professor and clinic director in the University’s Program in Human Sexuality. “The pressure to be sexual at a young age appears to be waning a bit.”

Still, the data shows nearly half of all teenagers are becoming sexually active before age 19. Before doing so, Robinson encourages them to take it slowly and weigh the options.

“It should be an informed choice in all aspects,” said Robinson. “Ideally, it would be good for teenagers considering sexual activity to think ahead. Discuss sex with parents, trusted adults, and friends. Really consider what’s important in a sexual relationship before moving ahead.”

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