- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Adults and teens who think all teens are “doing it,” or that “hooking up” is more common than romantic relationships are in for a surprise: Studies do not support such concepts, says a research group that studies children and youth.

“Few topics are so heavily shrouded in mystery and myth as those involving sex and sexuality,” said a recent report by Child Trends Inc.

The United States faces serious issues with unplanned pregnancies and sexually transmitted infections, but faulty assumptions and old stereotypes about teens and sex are problems too, said the report, written by contributor Maryjo Oster.

Here are five myths about teen sex that need to be retired, the research group said.

1. Everybody’s “doing it.”

Untrue! Nationwide, the percentage of high school students who have ever had sexual intercourse has actually decreased from 54 percent to 47 percent between 1991 and 2013.

Moreover, according to the most recent federal Youth Risk Behavior Survey, only 34 percent of students reported being currently sexual active (had intercourse in the last three months), down from 38 percent in 1991.

In other words, “fewer teens are sexually active now than over the past two decades,” Child Trends said.

2. Kids today start having sex at much younger ages than in the past.

Not really. Instead, the average age of first sex has been increasing slowly over the past several decades. As of 2010, the average age of first sex was 17.8 years for females and 18.1 years for males.

Also, the percentage of high school students who reported having had sex before the age of 13 is less than 6 percent, down from 10 percent in 1991.

“Essentially, this means kids today wait longer to start having sex than they have in the past,” Child Trends said.

3. “Hooking up” with casual acquaintances is more common than sex within romantic relationships.

Despite media accounts about the “death of dating,” the truth is that by age 18, more than 80 percent of teens have had some dating experience, and most experiences were defined by teens as “special romantic relationships.”

Teens today date less than teens 30 years ago, but most modern teens still have their first sexual intercourse within the context of a romantic relationship. Only 16 percent of female teens and 28 percent of male teens said they had sex for the first time with someone they had just met or with whom they were “just friends.”

4. Teens are poor users of condoms and contraceptives.

The opposite is true: Teens have gotten much better at using birth control products over the past two decades.

Some 86 percent of currently sexually active teens say either they or their partner used a condom or other birth control product at the last time they had sex. Teens are especially aware of — and using — condoms.

“While there is certainly room for improvement, the data indicate that significantly more teens are taking measures to protect themselves from disease and unplanned pregnancy than in decades past,” Child Trends said.

5. Boys want sex; girls want love.

While this perception — or myth — is deeply embedded in the public psyche, it is flawed in many ways.

Boys and girls are each capable of romantic and sexual attraction: Recent research finds no significant differences between boys and girls in feelings of heightened emotionality in connection with a current or recent relationship.

Supportive families, friends and schools can help avoid stereotyping, and instead promote acceptance and appreciation of all youth, Child Trends said in its brief.

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