Where and When Do Teens First Have Sex?

Washington, DC – Are teens most likely to have their first experience with sex in the back seat of a car? Or in their own home? Between the time school gets out and a parent gets home from work? Or during night and evening hours?

The answers may surprise you. New data from a national survey of teens indicate that most report their “first time” occurred in their own or their partner’s family home during the night or evening hours – places and times when many parents are likely to be around.

These and other statistics on teen childbearing, sexual activity, and contraceptive use – some previously unpublished – appear in the just-released 2002 Facts At A Glance, Child Trends’ annual newsletter on teen childbearing and related issues.

While the U.S. teen birth rate has fallen for 10 consecutive years (reaching 45.9 births per 1,000 females 15-19 in 2001), other statistics examined by Child Trends present a compelling case for continued public attention to teen sexual behavior, pregnancy, and childbearing. For example:

  • Time and Place of First Sex. 42 percent of teens reported that their first sexual encounter occurred between 10 p.m. and 7 a.m. Another 28 percent reported first having sex between 6 p.m. and 10 p.m. More than half of all sexually experienced teens reported that their first sexual encounter occurred in their family’s home (22 percent) or their partner’s family home (34 percent).
  • Increases in Some Critical Sexually Transmitted Infections. Adolescents and young adult females had higher rates of Chlamydia and gonorrhea than any other age group in the U.S. Rates of Chlamydia have increased for both male and female adolescents and young adults between 1996 and 2000.
  • Hispanic Teens at Greatest Risk of Teen Birth. Teen birth rates have fallen for all racial and ethnic groups, but remain much higher for Hispanics (92 births per 1,000 females ages 15-19) than either non-Hispanic blacks (82) or non-Hispanic whites (30). Moreover, while the rate of teen births among Hispanics has been falling, the number of teen births has actually been increasing.
  • Repeat Teen Births. About one in five teen births are births to teens who have already borne a child.

“Despite a decade of declining teen births and birth rates, the public should not be complacent about teen childbearing,” said Angela Romano Papillo, M.A., who wrote the report with Jennifer Manlove, Ph.D. and Kristin Anderson Moore, Ph.D. “Almost half a million teens gave birth in 2001, jeopardizing their own futures and their children’s.”

Moore, Child Trends’ president and senior scholar, emphasized the important role parents can play in preventing sexual activity and other kinds of risk-taking by adolescents. “Research on how to prevent teen pregnancy and birth shows that involving adolescents in school, extracurricular projects, volunteering and religious activities delay first sex and pregnancy. Also, as these findings on ‘first sex’ illustrate, strong parent-teen relationships and vigilant parental monitoring are important.” (For more information, view Preventing Teen-age Pregnancy, Childbearing, and Sexually Transmitted Diseases: What the Research Shows, at www.childtrends.org/files/K1Brief.pdf.)

Differences Among States

While the steady overall decline in the U.S. teen birth rate is significant, teen birth rates vary widely from state to state and between regions of the country. For example, New Hampshire’s teen birth rate of 23 per 1,000 teenage girls ages 15 to 19, is the lowest in the nation. The teen birth rate in Mississippi – still the state with the highest teen birth rate – is 72 per 1,000. The Southern and Southeastern states continue to have the highest rates of teen births. (State and national birth rate data were provided by the National Center for Health Statistics.)

Child Trends, founded in 1979, is an independent, nonpartisan research center dedicated to improving the lives of children and their families by conducting research and providing science-based information to the public and decision-makers.

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