- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 16, 2003

Two-thirds of U.S. teenagers who have had sexual relations wish they had waited longer, a new survey has found.

The survey conducted for the National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy found that the number of people who wish they had delayed sexual activity rose 4 percent from three years ago. Of the 2,000 people polled, 67 percent said they wished they had waited. The new data also determined that 85 percent of teens believe sex should occur only in long-term committed relationships.

The findings were based on telephone surveys of 1,000 young people, ages 12 to 19, and 1,000 adults 20 years and older. It was conducted in August and September by International Communications Research, an independent research firm. The margin of error in the survey was plus or minus 3 percentage points.

Campaign spokesman Bill Albert said there are two key findings from the survey.

“First,” he said, “teens express more cautious attitudes and values toward sex than is perhaps generally believed.”

The second big finding, Mr. Albert said, is that “parents continue to underestimate the influence they have” on whether their child becomes sexually active.

On the subject of delaying sex, the poll found that 77 percent of sexually experienced teen girls and 60 percent of sexually experienced teen boys reported they wished they had postponed sexual activity. They were not asked how long they wished they had waited.

In 2000, when asked the same question, 72 percent of girls and 55 percent of boys said they wished they had waited longer. The 2000 survey canvassed youngsters ages 12 to 17.

The Campaign is a bipartisan, nonprofit coalition aimed at deterring teen pregnancy.

Other findings that suggest teens are more wary of early and casual sex include:

• Nearly three in 10 teens (28 percent) say they have become more opposed in the past several years to teens having sex.

• 84 percent of teens say pregnancy-prevention programs should teach young people to be married before they have a child.

• 88 percent of teens say it would be easier for teens to postpone sexual activity and avoid teen pregnancy if they were able to have more open, honest conversations about these topics with their parents.

• 59 percent of teens say their parents are their role models of healthy, responsible relationships.

• Teens say parents (45 percent) influence their decisions about sex more than friends (31 percent) or others. Adults, however, do not believe they are the most influential factor in whether their teens become sexually active. Only 32 percent of adults believe parents play the biggest role in this area. Adults mistakenly think a teen’s friends are most influential.

• Only a quarter of teens (26 percent) think it’s embarrassing to admit being a virgin.

• Teens say their own morals, values and religious beliefs — as well as concerns about their future — influence their decisions about sex far more than concerns about pregnancy or sexually transmitted diseases.

This survey, coupled with one issued two years ago by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, showed that teens overestimate the percentage of their peers who have had sex. The CDC’s 2001 Youth Risk Survey reports that 46 percent of those in grades 9 to 12 have had sex.

However, 68 percent of those in grades 9 to 12 in the Campaign’s survey said they believe teens their age are sexually active.

Six in 10 teens overall in the new survey believe teen boys often get the message that sex and pregnancy are not a big deal. The breakdown was 49 percent of boys and 70 percent of girls who believe boys receive a different message.

Another finding of concern was that 42 percent of teens in grades 9 to 12 said they had been at parties in the past six months where both boys and girls, but no adults, were present. Among adolescents 12 to 14, one in five said they had been in that situation.

Better than nine out of 10 teens and adults say society needs to provide teens with a clear message that they should delay sex until they have, at least, completed high school.

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