CDC report shows declining sexual activity among US teenagers.

The recently released report of the CDC; Teenagers in the United States: Sexual Activity, Contraceptive Use and Childbearing, 2006-2010 National Survey of Family Growth has once again highlighted a sustained reduction in sexual activity in our teenagers and adolescents. The National Survey of Family Growth (NSFG) is conducted by the National Center for Health statistics (NCHS) of the CDC.1 This survey collects data on factors affecting family formation, growth and dissolution — including marriage, divorce, and cohabitation; contraception, sterilization, and infertility; pregnancy outcomes; and births among a population of men and women in their reproductive ages (15-44 years).1
The CDC report mentioned above analyzed a subset of the study population; 4,662 teenagers aged 15 — 19 years in the United States in 2006-2010. This sample represented the largest number of teenagers ever interviewed in this survey.1

The survey showed that sexual activity among teenagers has recorded a continuous decline over two decades. The percentage of sexually active female teenagers declined from 51% in 1988 to 43% in 2006-2010; and for teenage boys from 60% to 42% in the same period.1

This report also pointed to the fact that the most frequently stated reason by teens who have abstained from any form of sexual activity is for religious and moral reasons. This key finding reinforce the important role a values-based education plays in helping our youth make the healthiest decisions as it pertains to their sexual health and wellbeing.

Additionally, some other patterns existed among those teenagers who were less likely to be sexually experienced, which includes living with both parents, living with both parents when teen was aged 14, teens with a mother who had a college degree, and having a mother whose first birth was at age 20 or over.1 This finding bolsters the conclusion that the family unit continues to be a great influence upon the ability of teenagers to make healthy decisions. Previous research has shown parent-teen connectedness to influence delay of sexual initiation in adolescents. Effective parenting strategies, including monitoring, effective communication, and parent-child connectedness can protect youth from risky sexual behaviors.2 Parents have long being known as strong influencers of youth sexual decision making.3, 4

Despite tremendous increases in the use of condoms by sexually active teenagers between 2006 and 2010, gonorrhea and chlamydia rates in this age group, especially in teenage girls, have remained the highest for any age or sex group.5 This finding underscores the importance of risk avoidance if our youth are to live healthy, disease-free lives.
Inconsistent condom use remains the norm for most teenagers, with less than half of sexually active teenagers reporting consistent condom use.1 Consequently, the risk for contracting and transmitting STIs further increases for this age group. Adolescent sexual activity is risky and we are doing our young people a disservice when we fail to equip them with the right message that they need to make decisions that will avert the health consequences which accompany such activity.

Every additional dollar spent on waging opposition to risk avoidance education is that much not spent on the vital education that should be delivered to our adolescents and teenagers.

The gradual, yet sustained decrease in sexual activity should alert us to the value of abstinence-based sex education, such as has been provided to our young people in the past two decades. Erosion of this message could herald a new era of increasing risky sexual activity as was all too often the case before the introduction of risk avoidance education. It is critical to understand the trends in sexual risk taking of our adolescents and teenagers because of the huge health and social costs that are frequently associated with this demographic engaging in risky sexual activity.

This study by the CDC is a watershed moment in appreciating the importance of risk avoidance and the effectiveness of not only encouraging, but also assisting, young people to wait until they are in a committed lifelong relationship with an uninfected partner to maximize their prospect for a healthy, happy and hopeful future.

The Medical Institute remains committed to providing objective and credible information on sexual health, to assist and enable our young people have the knowledge and power to be free to pursue their goal and be all that they can be.


1. Martinez G, Copen CE, Abma JC. Teenagers in the United States: Sexual activity, contraceptive use, and childbearing, 2006–2010 National Survey of Family Growth. National Center for Health Statistics. Vital Health Stat 2011;23(31):1-44.

2. Markham CM, Lormand D, Gloppen KM, Peskin MF, Flores B, Low B, House LD. Connectedness as a predictor of sexual and reproductive health outcomes for youth. J Adolesc Health. 2010;46(3):S23-S41.

3. Dittus PJ, Jaccard J. Adolescents’ perceptions of maternal disapproval of sex: relationship to sexual outcomes. J Adolesc Health. 2000;26(4):268-278.

4. McNeely C, Shew ML, Beuhring T, Sieving R, Miller BC, Blum RW. Mothers’ influence on the timing of first sex among 14 and 15 year-olds. J Adolesc Health. 2002;31(3):256-265.

5. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Sexually Transmitted Disease Surveillance 2009. Atlanta: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services; 2010. Available at: Accessed October 18, 2011.

Reviewed: November 2011