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Not Doing It: Fewer High School Kids Have Sex

Fewer teens are having sex, CDC says 0:25

Fewer teens are having sex, according to a government survey of risky youth behaviors.

The survey found 41 percent of high school kids said they had ever had sex, down from around 47 percent over much of the last decade. It also found marked declines last year in the proportion of students who said they'd had sex recently, had sex before they were 13, and had four or more partners.

Related: U.S. Pregnancy Rate Hits New Low

Researchers said they're not certain why the drop occurred, and they aren't sure if it marks a new trend.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released the findings Thursday as part of a large national survey conducted every two years. It also found a decrease in illegal drug use and many other risky behaviors.

The surveys included 16,000 students at 125 schools, both public and private. Participation was voluntary and required parental permission, but responses were anonymous. Results were released Thursday.

National surveys have seen a leveling off in recent years in the proportion of kids who said they had sex, after earlier declines. Researchers said that meant continuing declines in teen pregnancies and abortions were due to more and better use of birth control.

But the new numbers suggest kids are having sex less often, also. The drops are surprising enough that government officials said they'd like to see what the next survey shows to make sure it's not a statistical blip.

If it is a true drop, the reason is not clear why. "We're trying to look at reasons why this might be happening," said Dr. Stephanie Zaza of the CDC, who oversees the survey.

One possibility, Albert said: "It may be that parking at Lookout Point has given way to texting from your mom's living room couch," he said.

In the new survey, about 42 percent said they played video or computer games or used a computer for something that was not school work for more than three hours per day on an average school day.

Beth Mattey, who until last year was a nurse at a high school in Wilmington, Delaware, suggested a factor may be how much more common it is for teens to openly discuss sex and sexual orientation.

"We want kids to have a healthy sexuality built around self-respect and self-esteem," said Mattey, who is now president of the National Association of School Nurses.

Why would more discussion of sex reduce the amount of sex kids are having? One theory: "Culturally we may have shifted away from sex being a taboo that adolescents would sort of reach out for," said Beth Marshall, a Johns Hopkins University scientist focused on adolescent health.

The survey found the 30 percent of the students surveyed said they'd had sex in the previous three months, down from about 34 to 35 percent reported in each of the previous six surveys.

About 11 percent had four or more sex partners, down from the 14 to 15 percent seen over the previous decade. And about 4 percent said they'd had sex before they turned 13, down from 6 to 7 percent.