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Teenage Sexuality

Separating Reality and Hysteria

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Updated October 29, 2006

Every twenty five years or so there comes a point when the media (and possibly the general public) becomes fixed on teenage sexual behavior. It seems inevitable that one generation, once they have hit the age where their children are teenagers, become convinced that teens have become more promiscuous, more troubled, and more misguided than any previous generation.

But is there any truth to this? Is it just a lot of “things were better way back when”?

Because we live in a relatively sex-negative culture, where sexuality is mostly used as a commodity and relegated to either a dirty joke or a serious crime, we tend towards hysteria when it comes to talking about sex, and over react before getting the whole story.

What are the facts about teenage sexual behavior? Some relevant statistics can be found below, but it is important to consider some of the problems with statistics on teenage sexual behavior,

  • When a “study” is cited in the media often it will be a smaller study that isn’t a representative sample. Most large scale survey data that is cited in the media comes from 1995 or earlier.
  • There are many obstacles to studying teen sexual behavior, including the lack of representation given the need for parental consent to participate in studies, as well as the lack of known reliability and validity of the teens responses themselves. It is very likely that teens responses are biased in one way or another, and the biases may have changed over time. For example, fifteen years ago, a teenager may have reduced the actual number of sexual partners they had, whereas today, they may exaggerate that number.
  • Even the category of “teen” is problematic, as it includes everyone from aged 13-19. This is in no way a homogenous group, and studying them as if they were can result in problematic data.

It is also important to ask the question, if teens are having sex, is this necessarily a bad thing? For example, if eighteen year olds are having more sex, but the sex they are having is safer, and they are doing it with more knowledge and thoughtfulness than the previous generation, is that a bad thing?

Looking for teen sex statistics?

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