Lilian Min
July 24, 2015 6:00 am

Teens and sex, am I right? No really — the image of the perpetually libidinous teenager is one that’s endured for decades, with each generation’s adult population rolling their eyes and going, “Ugh, teens are so gross.” It’s almost as though learning and experiencing sexual feelings and acting on those feelings during your teenage years is something that happens to just about everyone, at a regular rate, throughout history.

Sarcasm aside, there are real differences in the way teens think about and have sex in the modern era versus in decades before, but the results might surprise you: A new study done by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) shows that millennial teens are having sex later than their counterparts from 1988, while condom use is up from even just a decade ago.

Let’s look at the numbers: From a sample pool of 1000+ teen girls and then 1000+ teen boys, the study, which covers 25 years (1988-2013), shows that 44% of female teens and 47% of male teens have had sex between the ages of 15-19, when puberty generally kicks into sexual maturity. This figure is down—by 14% for girls and 22% for boys—from the 1988 numbers. (A note: These difference percentages are based on the original figures, not the base numerical difference between the 1988 figures and the 2011-2013 figures — you go, algebra!) So contrary to the notion that sex-crazed teens are hooking up as a result of sexting or salacious Snapchats or various pop culture influences, our current teen generation is actually deferring their sexual experiences for later on. That, even as puberty is kicking in earlier.

* Obligatory note: Nothing in the study mentions frequency of sex once had, what the study defines as intercourse, or any population breakdown in sexual preferences/sexual identity.

Having sex later correlates positively with having safer sex: Another segment of the study shows that for both teen boys and teen girls, first-time contraceptive use differed by ~21% between the 17-and-under population and the 18-19 population. Meanwhile, condom use for teens was up by 3 points over the past 25 years. (As counterpoint: Withdrawal “usage” is also up, while hormonal birth controls like the Pill and the Patch dropped.) Another interesting note: Use of the morning-after pill (emergency contraception) is up, but as our friends at Teen Vogue pointed out, that’s almost inevitable given its easier access and destigmatization over the course of decades.

You can read and parse the rest of the study’s conclusions here, but it just goes to show that teen sex is neither as pervasive or as reckless as older generations commonly perceive. Whatever you do, however you do it — be safe (both physically and emotionally) and informed about your options and choices. Just keep in mind that you’re in (comparatively) chaste company.

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Teen women of color are more likely to become pregnant — here’s why these stats matter

(Image c/o Paramount Pictures.)

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