The CDC released a new report today, "Sexual Behavior, Sexual Attraction and Sexual Identity in the U.S.," which looks at sexual activity in young Americans -- some 13,500 of them, age 15 to 44. Among the big highlights? Abstinence is up among teens and 20-somethings, which could have implications for the state of sexually transmitted infections (STIs) in the U.S.
The new study (which also looks at sexual attraction "trends" among 18 to 44-year-olds) comes on the heels of the biggest-ever sex health study, published last year in the Journal of Sexual Medicine (and sponsored by the makers of Trojan condoms), which revealed facts like the number of sexually active teenage males dramatically increases between the ages of 14 and 17.
So why should we care about the sexual behavior trends of this particular age group?
According to the CDC, the new data, compiled between 2006 and 2008, should prove particularly useful to public health researchers who want to better understand and target populations that are at high risk for contracting sexually transmitted infections -- i.e., teens. The center estimates there are some 19 million new cases of STIs in the U.S. every year -- over half of which occur among people age 15 to 24.
Which is why it's notable that abstinence seems to be on the rise among Americans within that age range. Bill Albert, chief program officer for the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy, told U.S. News and World Report that he is encouraged by the news that more teenagers and 20-somethings are abstaining. He says that the general view among adults has been that teenagers are having more and more sex, but the new data appears to contradict that.
Anjani Chandra, a health scientist with the National Center for Health Statistics, which helped compile today's report, told CNN that she has a slightly different take on the new information. By abstaining from vaginal intercourse, many teens think they're being safer and they certainly eliminate the risk of an unplanned pregnancy. But, Chandra says, if they engage in oral sex -- which the findings show many of them do -- they're still at risk for STIs.
One such STI that can spread through oral sex is HPV, the virus that can lead to genital warts and cancer in both men and women. Recent research suggests that HPV has infected 50 percent of men in the U.S. Scientists are currently working on tests that can help detect the virus in its early stages.
Researchers found that in 2002, around 22 percent of males and females between 15 and 24 reported that they'd never engaged in sexual contact but in 2006 and 2008, that changed. About 27 percent of men and 29 percent of young females reported they'd never had a sexual encounter.
Of the more than 24,000 15 to 24-year-olds tracked between 2007 and 2008, the majority (approximately 18,000) reported losing their virginity at age 17 or younger. Approximately 4,000 reported they had intercourse for the first time between 18 and 19, while approximately 1,600 reported losing their virginity between 20 and 24.
The CDC says that just over 27,000 15 to 24-year-olds reported having oral sex at least once between 2007 and 2008. Of that number, 51 percent reported they had oral sex before their first vaginal intercourse experience.
The number of females between the age of 15 and 24 who reported some same-sex behavior is up. In 2002, 12.4 percent of females said they'd engaged in some form of same sex behavior; in 2006 to 2008, that figure was up to 13.4 percent. For men in the same group, however, the percentage fell. In 2002, 5 percent reported some same sex activity; between 2006 and 2008, only 4 percent did.
When researchers opened that same question (of same sex behavior) up to all study participants -- age 15 to 44 -- the differences were even more pronounced. Women were twice as likely to report a same-sex experience than men (about 12.5 percent versus 5.2).
Women who reported having four or more sexual partners were more likely to have had a female sexual partner, when compared with women who'd had one (or no) male partners. In men, however, the number of female partners did not vary the likelihood of a same-sex encounter.
The number of women who reported being bisexual was up from 2002, from 2.8 percent to 3.5. In men, however, it was down -- from 1.8 percent to 1.1. Also interesting: In 2006 to 2008, women were approximately three times more likely report that they were bisexual than men.