Youth Culture Window

Teen Sex Trends

Dynamic Image“Today’s teens are having more sex than ever!” “They’re not practicing safe sex.” “Their irresponsibility is leading to more pregnancies…and abortions.”

It all sounds familiar. But is it true?

The Rate of Pants Dropping Is…Dropping
According to research conducted by The Guttmacher Institute, it appears as though teen pregnancy, teen birth rates, and teen abortion rates are dropping…all at the same time. Between 1990 and 2010, teen pregnancy fell by 51%. The teen birth rate also tumbled 44% from its highpoint in 1991, and teen abortion plummeted a whopping 66% from its peak in 1988.

Jonathan noted some of these trends back in a Youth Culture Window article in 2011, even interviewing Bill Albert, Chief Program Officer at National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy in attempt to get some answers. Now new research is showing further declines in teen pregnancy especially.

A related article by Newsweek agrees with many of these findings. Based on studies conducted by the U.S. Department of Health and the CDC, it was found that not only are the rates of teen births declining, but the rate of decline is actually accelerating. For example, between 2011 and 2012, that particular stat (teen birth) fell by 6%…but from 2012 to 2013, it dropped another 10%!

These findings are heralded as great news; there’s just one question: Why?

Lisa Romero, a researcher with the CDC, says that one of the most important factors in this positive trend stems from the fact that a growing number of teenagers are abstaining from sex. For example, in 1991, 54.1% of high school students reported having had sex in comparison with just 46.8% of high school students in 2013.

But other factors, ranging from social to economic, were also taken into account. The prevalence of birth control – reported by 85% of sexually active teenagers – is certainly having an effect. The various forms of media directed at this issue, for example, TV shows like Teen Mom and 16 and Pregnantmay also be partly responsible for the decline in sexual problems. Even today’s economic outlook was considered as a possible factor; researchers wonder if our poor financial climate has had a “sobering effect” on teens’ thinking.

So, has the battle been won? Can parents sit back and anticipate a regret-free life for their teenagers?

Not yet.

S-E-X Still Spells Trouble
While many parents and youth workers will celebrate this relatively good news, they need to look no farther than their own communities to see the ongoing consequences of teen sexuality, namely in the form of sexually transmitted infections.

Though teenagers represent a small portion of the sexually-active population, they routinely account for almost half of new STD and STI infections. For example, according to research by the Kaiser Family Foundation (reported in 2014), young people represented:


The bottom line is simple: though the rates of teen sexuality may be dropping, there are still far too many young lives ruined by poor sexual choices.

Yep, we’ve got work left to do.

Continuing the Trend
Parents and youth workers shouldn’t be happy until the stats above reach 0%. These two groups are central to continuing the downward trend in dangers related to teen sexuality. But with momentum on our side at the moment, now is the time to continue the press. Here are two simple ideas to keep the good news coming.


  1. Resource yourself. There are tons of great tools available on this subject which means you don’t have to reinvent the wheel. For example, my friend Jonathan McKee recently released two books on the subject of teen sexuality, one for parents/adults and one for teens/young people, and the one for teenagers is just $5.39. The Source for Youth Ministry also offers many free resources, as well. For example, entering “sex” in our website’s search bar yields a large number of articles, biblically-based small group discussion resources, and even skits on this important topic. Just find the one that best fits your needs…and use it for free. Teen sex is a touchy subject; make sure you have access to helpful tools that will promote confidence and effectiveness in your efforts.
  2. Talk about sex…often. It’s not like the teens in your life AREN’T talking about sex already…they’re just not talking about it with you! That needs to change immediately. Parents and youth workers can (and should) engage young people in loving, tactful, and constructive conversations about sex. Having “the” talk once in a kid’s life isn’t good enough. Young people are barraged with sexual temptations on a weekly – if not daily – basis. You need to be a consistent voice in their life pointing towards the goal and rewards of purity, responsibility, and holiness.

The recent shift in teen sexuality is mostly good news. But there’s too much at stake to become complacent, now. We’re the ones who are best poised to prevent young lives from being broken by sexual mistakes.

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David R. Smith

David R. Smith is the author of several books including Christianity... It's Like This and speaks to parents and leaders across the U.S. David is a 15-year youth ministry veteran, now a senior pastor, who specializes in sharing the gospel, and equipping others do the same. David provides free resources to anyone who works with teenagers on his website, David resides with his wife and son in Tampa, Florida.

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