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America's Children: Key National Indicators of Well-Being, 2017

Sexual Activity

Early sexual activity is associated with emotional102 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. Delaying sexual initiation is associated with a decrease in the number of lifetime sexual partners,103 and having fewer lifetime partners is associated with a decrease in the rate of STIs.104, 105 Additionally, teen pregnancy is associated with a number of negative risk factors, not only for the mother but also for her child (see FAM6).106

Indicator BEH4.A: Percentage of high school students who reported ever having had sexual intercourse by grade, selected years 1991–2015
Indicator BEH4.A: Percentage of high school students who reported ever having had sexual intercourse by grade, selected years 1991–2015

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.

Indicator BEH4.B: Among students who had sexual intercourse in the past 3 months, the percentage who reported birth control pill use before or condom use during their last sexual intercourse, selected years 1991–2015
Indicator BEH4.B: Among students who had sexual intercourse in the past 3 months, the percentage  who reported birth control pill use before or condom  use during their last sexual intercourse, selected years 1991–2015

NOTE: Students were asked, "The last time you had sexual intercourse, did you or your partner use a condom?" and "The last time you had sexual intercourse, what one method did you or your partner use to prevent pregnancy?" "Birth control pills" was one option. 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.

  • The percentage of students reporting ever having had sexual intercourse declined from 54 percent in 1991 to 46 percent in 2001, and was relatively stable through 2013 (47 percent) before decreasing to 41 percent in 2015.
  • The percentage of students who reported ever having had sexual intercourse differed by grade. In 2015, about 24 percent of 9th-grade students reported ever having had sexual intercourse, compared with 36 percent of 10th-grade students, 50 percent of 11th-grade students, and 58 percent of 12th-grade students.
  • In 2015, of students who had sexual intercourse in the past 3 months, about 18 percent reported that they or their partner had used birth control pills before their last sexual intercourse and 57 percent reported condom use. Condom use increased between 1991 (46 percent) and 2003 (63 percent) and then decreased between 2003 and 2015.

table icon BEH4A HTML Table | BEH4B HTML Table BEH4C HTML Table

102 Meier, A. M. (2007). Adolescent first sex and subsequent mental health. American Journal of Sociology, 112(6), 1811–1847.

103 Chandra, A., Martinez, G. M., Mosher, W. D., Abma, J. C., & Jones, J. (2005). Fertility, family planning, and reproductive health of U.S. women: Data from the 2002 National Survey of Family Growth. Vital and Health Statistics, 23 (25). Hyattsville, MD: National Center for Health Statistics.

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

105 Gottlieb, S. L., Pope, V., Sternberg, M. R., McQuillan, G. M., Beltrami, J. F., Berman, S. M., & 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.

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