Kids can do abstinence, data shows

Carolyn Moynihan
19 May 2011
Reproduced with Permission

Those who insist on "safer sex" education for adolescents seem to assume two things: first, that nearly all teens will become sexually active, and second, that it doesn't matter (they have a right to) so long as they take precautions against disease and pregnancy. Therefore, all teens should be subjected to the same sexual propaganda.

But a report from the US government that I missed back in March indicates that these assumptions are faulty. Researchers from the Centres for Disease Control gathered data on sexual behaviour, attraction and identity through the 2006-2008 National Survey of Family Growth -- a household survey -- and compared it with the 2002 NSFG survey and other national surveys. The aim was to improve programmes to prevent the spread of STIs and unintended pregnancy.

The survey had a high response rate (75 per cent) and involved interviews (using laptops for maximum privacy) with more than 13,000 people aged 15 to 44.

The responses showed that among young adults aged 15 to 24, 29 per cent of women and 27 per cent of men had not had any sexual contact with the opposite sex. This was a sharp increase from 2002 when about 23 per cent of young adults had never had sex.

Furthermore, in the 15- to 19-year-old age group, 43 per cent of males and 48 per cent of females reported never having an opposite-sex partner. In the same age group a small percentage (7 per cent of females and 9 per cent of males) had had oral sex with an opposite-sex partner, but no intercourse.

These figures suggest that, rather than bombarding all high school kids with contraceptive information (not to mention perverse alternatives to sexual intercourse) abstinence or chastity education is an appropriate option. Indeed, it seems reasonable to infer that official encouragement of abstinence education in the 1990s and up to 2008 has been effective.

Among those aged 25 and older there was a lot of unpleasant stuff going on. However, same-sex activity was less than one might have supposed from the amount of political attention such relationships get. Some 5.8 per cent of males said they had ever had same-sex contact and 12 per cent of females. The percentages reporting their sexual identity as homosexual was even lower: 1.1 per cent of women (bisexual 3.5), and 1.7 per cent of men (1.1 bisexual).

Sexual Behaviour, Sexual Attraction, and Sexual Identity in the United States: Data From the 2006-2008 National Survey of Family Growth (