Sexual activity rare in young adolescents, but often nonconsensual

Image: PD

1. Teen pregnancy and consensual sex were more prevalent among adolescents older than 12 years. 

2. Sexual activity was rare among adolescents 12 years old or younger, but nonconsensual sex was more prevalent among this group.

3. Teens younger than 15 years of age were less likely to use contraception with sexual activity, while older teens were more likely to do so.

4. Rates of sexual initiation were lower in all teenagers born in the 1990s compared to those born in the 1970s. 

Study Rundown: The current study updates previous research on teenage sexual activity and presents one of the first evaluations of young adolescent sexual activity. Regardless of age, teens born in the 1990s were less likely to have had sex when compared to those born in the 1970s. Data also indicate that while sexual activity and pregnancy are rare among young adolescents (those 12 years or younger), sexual activity in this group is more likely to be nonconsensual. These findings suggest that while concerns about increased levels of sexual activity among adolescents may be unfounded, physicians should be aware that sexual activity among young adolescents is likely to be nonconsensual.

This pattern differs greatly from that of older adolescents who are more likely to have consensual sex and experience unwanted teen pregnancy despite contraception use. In addition, young teens are less likely to employ contraception with first sexual experience, suggesting that there is a need for increased contraceptive education for this age group. It is also important to note that the study relied heavily on self-reported data, which may have resulted in underreporting of sexual experiences, including nonconsensual sex.

Click to read the study, published today in Pediatrics

In Depth: this cross-sectional study evaluated data from the National Center for Health Statistics from 2006-2010, including age at first intercourse, whether it was consensual, use of contraception, pregnancy rates and outcomes.  Only 5% of girls had had sex by their 14th birthday, while older adolescent females were more likely to have had sex (19% of 15-year-olds and 32% of 16-year-olds). Young girls were more likely to report a nonconsensual first sexual experience (62% of 10-year-olds, 50% of 11-year-olds, and 23% of 12-year-olds) than older girls (only 7% of adolescents aged 13 or 14 years and fewer than 5% of adolescents 17 years and older). Among sexually active girls under 14 years, only 52% of respondents used contraception, whereas 82% of 16-year-olds did. Pregnancy rates in teens under 12 years were lowest and most ended in abortion, while girls over 14 years were more likely to carry to term.

By Emilia Hermann, Devika Bhushan, and Leah H. Carr

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