- Associated Press - Thursday, March 3, 2011

ATLANTA (AP) - Fewer teens and young adults are having sex, a government survey shows, and theories abound for why they’re doing it less. Experts say this generation may be more cautious than their predecessors, more aware of sexually spread diseases. Or perhaps emphasis on abstinence in the past decade has had some influence.

Or maybe they’re just too busy.

“It’s not even on my radar,” said 17-year-old Abbey King of Hinsdale, Ill., a competitive swimmer who starts her day at 5 a.m. and falls into bed at 10:30 p.m. after swimming, school, weight lifting, running, more swimming, homework and a volunteer gig working with service dogs for the disabled.

The study, released Thursday, is based on interviews of about 5,300 young people, ages 15 to 24. It shows the proportion in that age group who said they’d never had oral, vaginal or anal sex rose in the past decade from 22 percent to about 28 percent.

The findings are sure to surprise some parents who see skin and lust in the media and worry that sex is rampant.

“Many parents and adults look at teens and sex and see nothing but a blur of bare midriffs. They think things are terrible and getting worse,” said Bill Albert, chief program officer for the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy.

There are other surveys of sexual behavior, but this is considered the largest and most reliable. “It’s the gold standard,” Albert said.

Health scientist Anjani Chandra of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention described the decline in sex as small but significant. She declined to speculate on the reasons. It’s difficult to look for a trend earlier than 2002 because previous surveys did not gather as much detail about various types of sex, she added.

However, data over the years on vaginal intercourse among never-married adolescents shows a steady decline since 1988. That seems to be in sync with other CDC studies showing an overall drop in teen pregnancy.

That the trend began in the late 1980s seems to undermine the idea that abstinence-only sex education _ heavily emphasized during the 2001-2009 presidency of George W. Bush _ is the explanation, Albert said.

But it is possible those messages contributed, he added.

Comprehensive sex education _ which includes abstinence but also teaches contraception and safer sex skills _ didn’t go away during the Bush years, said Elizabeth Schroeder, executive director of Answer, a national sex education organization at Rutgers University.

“We have been redoubling efforts and it has made an impact on these statistics,” Schroeder said.

Sam Dercon, a 17-year-old high school junior from Princeton, N.J., said he’s learned to worry about the consequences of having sex.

“I do think that sexual education is taking away that idea that you are invincible,” said Dercon, who is also a contributing writer to http://www.sexetc.org, a project of Rutgers-based Answer.

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