Teens and sex by the numbers

We've sifted through the scary stats to get the lowdown on sexual behavior trends among teens. Here's what you need to know to help your child. (Hint: Start talking with them now!)

By Lauren Shanley

Have "the talk," even if you don't want to

 96 – Percent of students who've had formal sex education in school by the time they graduate high school

Good news on the education front: It appears that all this sex ed could be paying off. According to this Guttmacher Institute survey, comprehensive approaches to sex ed appears to help tweens and teens withstand pressures to have sex too soon, and once they become sexually active, to have healthy and responsible relationships. More encouraging findings: Teens are waiting longer to have sex and using more contraception than ever before.

Even so, you're not off the hook: parents still need to talk to their teenagers about sex — even if the subject makes you (and your teen) really uncomfortable. A study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that teens whose parents talk about sex education have "delayed sexual initiation" and once they become sexually experienced, used more birth control.

These latest stats and facts will help you start the conversation and educate your child on the biggest risks. 

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Why you should chat ASAP

1 in 10 — Sexually active male teens had their first sexual encounter before age 13.

Not only are teens who start having sex early less prepared for the considerable physical and emotional challenges associated with an intimate relationship, they're also more likely to have a larger number of sexual partners. (Another disturbing finding: Girls who were younger than 13 at the time of their first sexual encounter tended to have a partner who was, on average, five or more years older.)

Of the teens who reported having their first sexual encounter before high school, 20 percent of boys and more than 50 percent of girls reported having four or more sexual partners in the past year. Not surprisingly, increasing the number of partners makes teens more susceptible to contracting sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) and getting pregnant.

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How you talk about sex matters

1 in 5 - Teens reported  either not talking to their parents about sexual health topics or having discussions with their parents that weren't helpful.

A majority of teens in the study reported being satisfied with the relationship they had with their parents and communicating well with at least one parent.  However, despite the open channels, less than a third of respondents said conversations they had with their parents concerning sexual health topics had been very helpful to them.  A study at Emory University showed the more open and supportive parents were in conversations about sex, the less likely their teens were to engage in risky sexual behavior.

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Girls are more ready to talk

63 — Percent of female teens who've talked with their parents about how to say no to sex

Good news for parents of girls, not so good news for parents of boys: Girls were more likely to talk to their parents about sexual health than boys. Only 42 percent of their male peers had similar conversations. Girls were also more likely to talk to their parents about methods of birth control, where to get birth control, and how to prevent HIV/AIDS and STDs. In the few conversations boys had with their parents, they were more likely to discuss how to properly use a condom.

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High stakes of early sex: HIV and STDs

17 — Percent of all new diagnoses of HIV/AIDS in the past year where patients were teenagers

Even more worrisome, teens are rarely aware they have contracted the disease: Less than 13 percent of high school students had been tested for HIV. Additionally, while teens only account for a quarter of the population that is sexually active, they account for almost half of new STD diagnoses annually, an estimated 9.5 million infections.

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GPA vs. S-E-X?

2.9 - 3.0 — Students who have a GPA under 2.9 are 12 percent more likely to have sex than students with a GPA above 3.0.

Another reason to have your teens hit the books! Not only are students with lower GPAs more likely to have sex, they're also more likely to have their first sexual encounter at a younger age and less likely to use contraception. Conversely, teens with higher GPAs are 10 percent more likely to use contraception and wait longer to have sex.

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Teen mothers = low graduation rate

1 in 3 – Teen mothers who had neither a GED nor a high school diploma by the time they turned 22

Shows like "Teen Mom 2" that depict the overwhelming responsibilities, and sudden limitations, of being a teen mom help illustrate why this sobering reality is painfully true. According to a study by Child Trends, teen mothers were less likely to finish high school on time or at all. Along with this startling statistic, a mere 51 percent of teen mothers earned a high school diploma by the time they turned 22. In comparison, 89 percent of their classmates who had not given birth graduated from high school.

Photo credit: Charline Tetiyevsky

Making the conversation easier

As recent stats make clear, talking to your teens about sex does not mean they're going to start having it. Quite the opposite. By initiating a discussion with your teens about sex, you can ensure they're getting correct information.

If they (or you!) feel uncomfortable, guide them to resources for their questions, such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, WebMD, or a healthcare provider. See our article about opening the conversation about sex and how to keep that door open for future questions and concerns. Don’t assume they know everything about protection, STDs, and peer pressure: Start your conversation — and their understanding — today.

Photo credit: Cavan Images