NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

One in Five Teens Have Sex Before 15th Birthday

May 20, 2003

About 20 percent of adolescents have had sexual intercourse before their 15th birthday -- and one in seven of the sexually experienced 14-year-old girls has been pregnant, according to a report by the National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy.

The report, an analysis of seven studies conducted in the late 1990s, offers a comprehensive look at the sexual activities of 12- to 14-year-olds, a group often overlooked in discussions of adolescent sexuality.

In addition to the obvious concerns about pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases, the report found that young adolescents who were sexually experienced were far more likely than virgins to engage in other risky behaviors, like smoking, drinking and using drugs.

  • For example, 18 percent of the sexually experienced young people reported drinking regularly, compared with 3 percent of the virgins.
  • Similarly 29 percent of the sexually experienced adolescents said they had smoked regularly, and 43 percent had used marijuana, compared with 8 percent and 10 percent of the virgins.

The report found that young teenagers have ample opportunity to have sex.

  • About half of 14-year-olds have attended a party with no adult supervision, and about a third said that within the last three months, they had lain on a bed or couch alone with someone they liked.
  • About a quarter of the 12- to 14-years-olds had dated or had a romantic relationship with someone at least two years older -- and the greater the age difference, the more likely the relationship was to have included sexual intercourse, the study found.

"When parents ask me what they can do, I tell them two things," says Sarah Brown, director of the campaign. "First, discourage early one-on-one dating, and, second, be very, very leery of significant age differences."

Source: Tamar Lewin, "1 in 5 Teenagers Has Sex Before 15, Study Finds," New York Times, May 20, 2003; based on Bill Albert, Sarah Brown and Christine M. Flanigan, "14 and Younger: The Sexual Behavior Of Young Adolescents," National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy, May 2003.


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