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America's Children in Brief: Key National Indicators of Well-Being, 2016

Sexual Activity

Early sexual activity is associated with emotional57 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,58 and decreasing the number of lifetime partners is associated with a decrease in the rate of STIs.59, 60 Additionally, teen pregnancy is associated with a number of negative risk factors, not only for the mother but also for her child (see also Adolescent Births).61 Examining sexual activity by race and ethnicity can help us determine who is at highest risk for negative emotional and physical consequences.

Figure 19: Percentage of high school students who reported ever having had sexual intercourse by race and Hispanic origin, selected years 1991–2013
Percentage of high school students who reported ever having had sexual intercourse by race and Hispanic origin, selected years 1991–2013

NOTE: Data are based on the student's response to the question "Have you ever had sexual intercourse?" The revised 1997 Office of Management and Budget Standards for Data on Race and Ethnicity were implemented in 2005. Data on race and Hispanic origin are collected separately but are combined for reporting. Students were coded as "Other" if they (1) did not self-report as Hispanic, and (2) selected "American Indian or Alaska Native," "Asian," or "Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander," or selected more than one response to a question on race.

SOURCE: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System.

  • In 2013, about 47 percent of high school students in grades 9 through 12 reported ever having had sexual intercourse.
  • The percentage of students who reported ever having had sexual intercourse declined from 1991 (54 percent) to 2001 (46 percent) and remained stable from 2001 to 2013.
  • The percentage of students who reported ever having had sexual intercourse differed by race and Hispanic origin. In 2013, 61 percent of Black, non-Hispanic students reported ever having had sexual intercourse, compared with 49 percent of Hispanic students and 44 percent of White, non-Hispanic students.

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57 Meier, A. M. (2007). Adolescent first sex and subsequent mental health. American Journal of Sociology, 112(6), 1811–1847. doi:10.1086/512708

58 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), 1–160. Retrieved from http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/series/sr_23/sr23_025.pdf

59 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. doi:10.1001/jama.297.8.813

60 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 Survey (NHANES) 2001–2004. Sexually Transmitted Diseases, 35(5), 507–511. doi:10.1097/OLQ.0b013e3181644bae

61 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.