Adolescent Sexual Behavior

  • Dating plays a part in adolescents’ healthy development. But when teens are dating exclusively (going steady), they are more likely to have sex earlier.[1],[2]
  • The proportion of adolescents who have ever had sex has declined since the early 1990s.[3]
  • Adolescents who have sex early are less likely to use contraception, putting them at greater risk of pregnancy and STDs.[4],[5]
  • Many adolescents are engaging in sexual behaviors other than vaginal intercourse. Nearly half have had oral sex and just over one in 10 have had anal sex.[6]
  • Not all sexually active adolescents take part in high-risk sexual behaviors. Thirty-nine percent of females and 33 percent of males who have ever had sex have only had one partner.[7]
  • The likelihood of sex increases with each school grade level, from 32 percent in ninth grade to 62 percent in 12th grade.[8],[9]
  • Between 2006 and 2008, 14 percent of female adolescents and 25 percent of male adolescents had sex for the first time with someone they had just met or with whom they were “just friends.”[10]
  • Many adolescents are engaging in oral sex prior to having sexual intercourse. About 51 percent of 15- to 24-year-olds had oral sex before they first had sexual intercourse.[11]
  • New media play an important role in adolescents’ dating and sexual relationships. More than one-third of adolescents say they have sent or posted sexually suggestive messages by text, IM, or e-mail.[12] 

Know More



[1] Collins, W. A., Welsh, D. P., & Furman, W.C. (2009). Adolescent romantic relationships. Annual Review ofPsychology, 60, 631-652.
[2] Kirby, D., & Lepore, G. (2007). Sexual risk and protective factors, Factors affecting teen sexual behavior,pregnancy, childbearing and sexually transmitted disease. Washington, DC: ETR Associates and the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy. Retrieved from http://www.thenationalcampaign.org/ea2007/protective_factors_FULL.pdf
[3] Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). 1991-2009 high school Youth Risk Behavior Survey data. Retrieved from http://apps.nccd.cdc.gov/youthonline
[4] Collins, W. A., Welsh, D. P., & Furman, W. C. (2009). Adolescent romantic relationships. Annual Review ofPsychology, 60, 631-652.
[5] Child Trends. (2010). Child Trends databank: Dating. Retrieved from http://www.childtrendsdatabank.org/alphalist?q=node/151
[6] Chandra, A., Mosher, W. D., Copen, C., & Sionean, C. (2011). Sexual behavior, sexual attraction, and sexualidentity in the United States: Data from the 2006-2008 National Survey of Family Growth: National Center for Health Statistics 36. Retrieved from http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/nhsr/nhsr036.pdf
[7] Abma, J. C., Martinez, G. M., & Copen, C. E. (2010). Teenagers in the United States: Sexual activity, contraceptive use, and childbearing, National Survey of Family Growth 2006-2008. National Center for Health Statistics. Vital andHealth Statistics, 23(30). Retrieved from http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/series/sr_23/sr23_030.pdf
[8] Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). 1991-2009 high school Youth Risk Behavior Survey data. Retrieved from http://apps.nccd.cdc.gov/youthonline
[9] Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2010). Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance Survey - United States, 2009. Surveillance summaries: MMWR 2010; 59 (No. SS-5). Retrieved from http://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/pdf/ss/ss5905.pdf
[10] Abma, J. C., Martinez, G. M., & Copen, C. E. (2010). Teenagers in the United States: Sexual activity, contraceptive use, and childbearing, National Survey of Family Growth 2006-2008. National Center for Health Statistics. Vital andHealth Statistics, 23(30). Retrieved from http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/series/sr_23/sr23_030.pdf
[11] Barber, B., & Eccles, J. (2003). The joy of romance: Healthy adolescent relationships as an educational agenda. In P. Florsheim (Ed.), Adolescent romantic relations and sexual behavior: Theory, research, and practical implications. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.
[12] The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy. (2008). Sex and tech: Results from a surveyof teens and young adults. Washington, DC: The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy. Retrieved from http://www.thenationalcampaign.org/sextech/pdf/sextech_summary.pdf
Last updated: August 04, 2014