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Youth Sexuality


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Why This Measure?

Teens are sexual beings, and adolescence naturally involves sexual thoughts and experimentation. It is important that kids develop healthy sexual behaviors in their teens. But for most kids, sexual intercourse in the teen years is not a part of healthy sexual expression. It is too often linked to other problems such as involuntary sex, sexual abuse, negative peer pressure, and drug and alcohol use. Early initiation of sexual intercourse also exposes young people to a number of potential consequences, including STDs and pregnancy. A host of risk and resiliency factors affect the likelihood of kids initiating sexual intercourse at young ages.

Lead Indicator

Source: Montana YRBS, OPI, 1995


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How are we doing?

When we examine Missoula specific YRBS data, we find results similar to state tallies. There appears to be a downward trend. In the same survey that produced the numbers above, 29% of adolescents used alcohol before having sex.

Trends In Adolescent Sexual Behavior

An article in the July/August 2000 issue of Family Planning Perspectives examines data from four national surveys to determine trends in adolescent sexual behavior over time. Researchers looked at data from the National Survey of Family Growth (NSFG) 1988 and 1995, the National Survey of Adolescent Males (NSAM) 1988 and 1995, the Youth Risk Behavior Survey (YRBS) 1991, 1993, 1995, and 1997, and the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health (Add Health) 1995.   In order to accurately compare measures across the four surveys, researchers limited data to respondents who were aged 15 through 17 and had attended grades 9 through 12 in the last 30 days, or if interviewed during the summer, had attended school in May or subsequent months.  For this analysis, researchers looked at six behaviors: ever having had sexual intercourse, having had sexual intercourse in the last three months, pill use at last intercourse, condom use at last intercourse, number of partners in last three months, and number of lifetime partners.

Ever Having Had Sexual Intercourse

The proportion of males reporting intercourse declined 9% in the YRBS between 1991 and 1997 and 8% in NSAM between 1988 and 1995. Significant declines were found among white, black, and Hispanic males in the YRBS (8 to 9%) and among white males in the NSAM (12%). *Among females, the only significant change in the proportion of respondents ever having had sexual intercourse was an 8% decline among black females in the YRBS.

Intercourse in the Past 3 Months

The proportion of adolescents who reported having had sexual intercourse within the past 3 months grew significantly only in the YRBS, where it increased among all females (3%), white females (5%), all males (7%), and white males (10%).

Oral Contraceptive Use at Last Intercourse

There was a significant decline (13%) in the use of oral contraceptives at last intercourse by currently sexually active women in the NSFG. No other study produced a statistically significant decline.

Condom Use at Last Intercourse

Among males, significant increases in condom use at last intercourse were found for the NSAM (11%) and the YRBS (6%).  Among females in the YRBS who reported their male partners’ use of condoms, there was a 12% increase.  In looking at the full sample of adolescents for each study, the YRBS, NSAM, and NSFG have all shown increases in condom use.

Number of Sexual Partners

The proportion of males in the YRBS reporting two or more sexual partners declined from 39% in 1991 to 34% in 1997. (Most of this decrease occurred between 1995 and 1997, after the last round of the NSFG and the NSAM.) Among white females, the proportion reporting four or more lifetime partners decreased significantly in the NSFG (from 27% to 15%) but not in the YRBS.  In the YRBS, the proportion of males with four or more partners decreased significantly among all males from 39% to 35% and among white males from 30% to 24%.


The authors conclude that declines in sexual intercourse and increases in condom use reported in these data indicate a shift toward safer and self-protective behavior among adolescents. Further, the fact that several surveys show these changes increases confidence that these trends are real.  They go on to say that across surveys, the data generally demonstrated comparable trends over time in sexual behaviors among adolescents.  Patterns by gender, race, or ethnicity were also generally consistent across surveys. The authors caution, however, that although all four national surveys collect information about adolescent sexual behavior, their purposes, design and implementation strategies differ in many ways. Policymakers and others who use data should “generally avoid comparing point estimate for adolescent behavior across surveys, even if seemingly comparable groups are used.” For example, 1997 data from the YRBS should not be compared with 1995 data from NFSG or NSAM to suggest trends in adolescent behaviors. The authors conclude that, despite these limitations, the four studies provide important tools for monitoring trends in health behavior and a rich data resource for public health professionals and policymakers.

For more information: J. Santelli et al. “Adolescent Sexual Behavior: Estimates and Trends From Four Nationally Representative Surveys” Family Planning Perspectives, vol. 32, no. 4, pp. 156-65.

Risk/Resiliency Factors

Almost all adolescents participate in sexual activity of some kind. Overall, 90% have kissed, 79% have participated in deep kissing, 72% have participated in touching "above the waist," and 54% have participated in touching "below the waist." (SIECUS Fact Sheet, Adolescents and Abstinence, August/September 1994)

Links exist between teen sexual activity and other risk-taking behaviors such as alcohol, drugs, and smoking. In the early teenage years especially, those who frequently smoke, drink, and use drugs are more likely than others to have sex. (The Alan Guttmacher Institute, Sex and America’s Teenagers)

See Protective Factors Measure

Cultural Influences

Prime time television contains roughly three sexual acts per hour. Only one of every six acts of intercourse is between married couples. In daytime serials favored by high school juniors and seniors, there are more than 3.5 sexual acts per hour, and non-marital intercourse is portrayed twice as often as marital intercourse. (1996 Montana Kids Count)



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