- The Washington Times - Monday, May 19, 2003

Almost one in five U.S. teens has sexual intercourse by their 15th birthday, says a report released today on this little-studied seg-

ment of the population.

This results in about 20,000 pregnancies and 8,000 births a year among middle-school-age children.

“For many young people, sex doesn’t wait,” said Sarah Brown, director of the National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy, which issued today’s report. “Parents, in particular, should be concerned about the dangers of early dating.”

The public strongly disapproves of young teens having sex. Early sexual debut, as it is called, is linked to a high number of lifetime sexual partners and an increased risk for teen pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). Babies born to young teen mothers are more likely to have low birth weight than babies born to older teens.

In addition, more than 80 percent of teens who had sex early said they regretted it, and a significant number of these girls said their first sexual experience was “unwanted.”

Sexual activity at these young ages also runs afoul of most state sexual assault and statutory rape laws.

Mrs. Brown and the national campaign said that despite the perils of young teen sex, relatively little data are available because most national surveys take place in high schools where teens are at least 15.

Based on a review of available data, the national campaign reported that:

• About 4 percent of 12-year-olds have had sex. This increases to 10 percent for age 13 and 19 percent for age 14.

• Boys are more likely than girls to have sex at an early age: At age 12, about 7 percent of boys have had sex; this rises to about 21 percent by age 14.

• Six of 10 sexually experienced young teens reported sexual activity in the previous 18 months; however, there was evidence that many young teens had sex infrequently and/or had one sexual partner.

The national campaign recommended that parents be more vigilant about their children’s friends, romantic interests and party-going.

One survey, for instance, found that only 30 percent of parents with sexually active 14-year-olds believed their children were sexually active. In another survey, a third of 12-year-olds said they had attended parties where no adults were present.

A separate study on teen sex released yesterday by the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation found that sexual issues were part of many 13- and 14-year-olds’ lives: Forty-seven percent of 302 young teens agreed there was “pressure to have sex by a certain age.”

More than 80 percent of young teens said they had learned about sexual health from their parents. Other sources were sex education classes, the mass media, friends and doctors.

But more than half of young teens said they wanted more information, especially on preventing and recognizing STDs, birth control, dealing with sexual pressure and talking about these subjects with a doctor.

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