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At What Age Do American Teens Become Sexually Active?

Summary and Comment |
September 10, 2009

At What Age Do American Teens Become Sexually Active?

  1. Ann J. Davis, MD

Age at sexual debut varies by sex, race, and ethnicity.

  1. Ann J. Davis, MD

Until now, no study has been large enough to provide satisfactory data on age at sexual debut in the four largest racial or ethnic groups in the U.S. Now, researchers analyzed data from the National Youth Risk Behavior Survey (conducted from 1999 through 2007) to determine age at first coitus in 66,882 black, Latino and Latina, white, and Asian students in grades 9 through 12.

Based on self-reported data, probability for coital debut by a student's 17th birthday was 82% for black males, 74% for black females, 69% for Latinos, 59% for Latinas, 53% for white males, 58% for white females, 33% for Asian males, and 28% for Asian females.

Comment

Although these data are interesting and important, they do not account for potential confounders, such as parental income and educational level, which can diminish the association between race or ethnicity and teen pregnancy. In addition, girls (as well as members of some ethnic groups) might be more likely to underreport sexual activity, whereas boys might be more likely to overreport it. Finally, this study did not include youths who had dropped out of school — a very high-risk group. The authors concluded that sex education programs and policies should be sensitive to the effects of race or ethnicity on coital debut. However, frontline medical providers should discuss sexuality routinely at healthcare visits with all teens, regardless of race or ethnicity.

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Ann J. Davis, MD

Past Associate Editor, Past Contributing Editor
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