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WETZSTEIN: YRBS shows a ‘new sexual norm’ for teens
“Have you ever had sexual intercourse?” Yes or no.
That’s the simple question that thousands of high school students are asked every two years in a federal survey called the Youth Risk Behavior Survey (YRBS).
The latest answer from 14,000 teens who took the 2007 YRBS came out a few days ago: Fifty-two percent of teens said nope, they have never had sexual intercourse.
What’s newsworthy about this is that this marks 10 years in which the teens abstaining from sex outnumbered the ones not abstaining from sex.
Of course, there’s no talk about a “new sexual norm,” in which most American teens wait until they graduate from high school before they have sex. That might be preposterous for baby boomers who can’t imagine a “Summer of No Love.”
I’m also sure the folks who live and work in communities where teen sex, teen pregnancies and teen births are rampant will find it hard to believe that most teens aren’t doing it.
But let’s step back a little.
The nation has been talking nonstop about teens delaying sex since the 1980s, when the deadly sexually transmitted disease (STD) known as AIDS appeared.
How is it possible that all that delay-your-sex messaging hasn’t paid off?
The definitive turnaround in teen sexual activity showed up in the 1997 YRBS, which is issued by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
When the YRBS started in 1991, a minority (45.9 percent) of high school students said they hadn’t had sex. But in 1997, the number of abstainers jumped to 51.6 percent.
This is “an important milestone,” Lloyd Kolbe, then-director of the CDC’s division on adolescent health, said at the time. It means that “students who haven’t engaged in sexual intercourse now can say they are in the majority,” he said.
What sparked the turnaround?
When I talked to experts in the late 1990s, they said the welfare debate was making unwed childbearing unpopular again.
AIDS education was another factor: By 1991, the YRBS found, eight-in-10 high school students had learned about AIDS, presumably including guidance on how to abstain from risky sex.
About the Author
Cheryl Wetzstein covers family and social issues as a national reporter for The Washington Times. She has been a reporter for three decades, working in New York City and Washington, D.C. Since joining The Washington Times in 1985, she has been a features writer, environmental and consumer affairs reporter, and assistant business editor.
Beginning in 1994, Mrs. Wetzstein worked exclusively ...
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