Recently, the National Center for Health Statistics, a branch of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, released a huge study about teenage sexual activity, contraceptive use and childbearing trends between 2006-2008. The National Survey of Family Growth covers a vast amount of information related to sexual and reproductive health and relies on interviews of men and women between ages of 15 and 44. On March 3, 2011, the Washington Post published an article highlighting this study’s finding that in recent years the number of American teenagers and young adults engaging in sexual contact has declined. (The link to the news story is at the end of this article). I was skeptical about the statistics, so I hunted down the CDC’s official report to learn more about who was surveyed, how big the study was and what sorts of methods were used.
After digging, I found some surprising truths. Apparently, the people who wrote this Washington Post article took some liberties with their data interpretation. They emphasized the idea that teens are “doing it less,” interviewing high-schoolers who said they are too busy and too invested in their future to have sex. The commentary’s tone implied that teenagers are behaving more responsibly, foreseeing the consequences of their actions, and responding well to sex education that emphasizes abstinence.
Now, it is very possible that these assertions are true in some cases. It is likely that there are plenty of teenagers who are engaging in important, fulfilling extra-curriculars instead of having sex. I will be the first to admit that I was one of these teenagers; though not necessarily out of choice. However, there are also many, many teenagers who this sweeping statement ignores. According to the actual CDC report, “In 2006–2008, the proportion of never-married females aged 15–19 who had ever had sexual intercourse was 42 percent. This was not a statistically significant change from 2002.” (Vital and Health Statistics, 2010).