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America's Children: Key National Indicators of Well-Being, 2013

Sexual Activity

Early sexual activity is associated with emotional94 and physical health risks. Youth who engage in sexual activity are at risk of contracting sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and becoming pregnant. STIs, including HIV, can infect a person for a lifetime and have consequences including disability and early death. Meanwhile, delaying sexual initiation is associated with a decrease in the number of lifetime sexual partners,95 and decreasing the number of lifetime partners is associated with a decrease in the rate of STIs.96,97 Additionally, teen pregnancy is associated with a number of negative risk factors, not only for the mother but also for her child (see FAM6).98

Indicator Beh4: Percentage of high school students who reported ever having had sexual intercourse by gender and selected grades, selected years 1991–2011
Percentage of high school students who reported ever having had sexual intercourse by gender and selected grades, selected years 1991–2011

NOTE: Students were asked, "Have you ever had sexual intercourse?" Data are collected biennially.

SOURCE: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for HIV/AIDS, Viral Hepatitis, STD, and TB Prevention, Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System.

  • In 2011, about 47 percent of high school students reported ever having had sexual intercourse.
  • The proportion of students who reported ever having had sexual intercourse declined significantly from 1991 (54 percent) to 2001 (46 percent) and remained relatively stable from 2001 to 2011.
  • The percentage of students who reported ever having had sexual intercourse differed by grade. In 2011, about 33 percent of 9th-grade students reported ever having had sexual intercourse, compared with 44 percent of 10th-grade students, 53 percent of 11th-grade students, and 63 percent of 12th-grade students.
  • Overall, the rates of sexual intercourse were higher among males (49 percent) than females (46 percent), and also differed by gender within some racial and ethnic groups. In 2011, approximately 67 percent of Black, non-Hispanic male students reported ever having had sexual intercourse, compared with 54 percent of Black, non-Hispanic female students; 53 percent of Hispanic male students reported ever having had sexual intercourse, compared with 44 percent of Hispanic female students.99
  • In 2011, about 18 percent of students who had sexual intercourse in the past 3 months reported that they or their partner had used birth control pills before their last sexual intercourse, and 60 percent reported condom use. Condom use increased from 46 percent in 1991 to 63 percent in 2003, then remained relatively stable through 2011.

table icon BEH4.A HTML Table, BEH4.B HTML Table, BEH4.C HTML Table

96 Dunne, E.F., Unger, E.R., Sternberg, M., McQuillan, G., Swan, D.C., Patel, S.S., and Markowitz, L.E. (2007). Prevalence of HPV infection among females in the United States. Journal of the American Medical Association, 297(8), 813–819.

97 Gottlieb, S.L., Pope, V., Sternberg, M.R., McQuillan, G.M., Beltrami, J.F., Berman, S.M., and Markowitz, L.E. (2008). Prevalence of syphilis seroreactivity in the United States: Data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Surveys (NHANES) 2001–2004. Sexually Transmitted Diseases, 35(5), 507–511.

98 Beginning in 2011, t-tests were used for this report to test for significant differences between groups. Comparison of confidence intervals was used to test for significant differences prior to 2011.

99 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 2011 Youth Risk Behavior Survey data. Available at http://apps.nccd.cdc.gov/youthonline/App/Default.aspx.