Is there a great teen sex stagnation?

The share of teen girls who reported they’ve had sex at least once dropped from 51 percent in 1988 to 44 percent in 2013, they found. Abstinence was more pronounced among the guys: 60 percent of teen boys in 1988 said they’d had sex, compared to 47 percent in 2013.

That is from Paquette and Cai, the underlying CDC study is here.  One major hypothesis is that teen sex has declined because smart phone usage is up.  Teens are both better informed about the risks of sex and…they have something else to do.


Or perhaps the new generation is more truthful.


My first thought, too.

Curiosity was a major sexual motivation when I was in high school. I wonder if the easy access to pornography has blunted that aspect of teenage sexuality.

Or maybe it's not as uncool as it used to be to admit that you're a virgin.

That made me laugh.

That would explain the boy numbers. Not sure about the girl numbers.

The drop is much greater for boys than for girls, so it makes sense as a possible factor.

I "abstinence" the precise mot juste when it comes to teenage boys?

Or fathers like myself are using social media to monitor their peers more effectively.

Your sentence implies that teens were having sex with fathers like yourself. Good thing you've got an eye on those other fathers, tho. ;-)

I thought he was pointing out that with technology he can now monitor his kids and their peers based on his teen experience in sneaking out to have sex and stop his kids and peers from doing what he did two decades earlier.

youngster here. I don't disagree with those hypotheses, but I don't think my alternate pastimes r better than sex or puppy love or the excitement around them. mostly as a teen I was cowardly and my "job search" was too dumb

Someone page Ray Lopez. There's a crisis in America and he's got the cure.

Teens these days are so fat not even other fat teens find them attractive. So yeah, smartphones.

It seems like forever since someone said "crisis of female obesity" around here...

Maybe it's just me, but I find "the look" of todays' teens unattractive. Their moms however... how should I say this... this MILF trend certainly catches my fancy.

That's called "getting old".

Not just smartphones! No doubt its the Internet in general+$0 porn (porn used to be very expensive in the 1970s). The Internet is distracting.

So interviews on masturbation and porn-watching behavior may be more useful.

Yeah, there's no way smartphones are the cause. All the drop occurred before the smartphone era. If anything, the smartphone encouraged a small bounce-back due to the rise of sexting.

"Teens are both better informed about the risks of sex"
-Pill use down, condom use up, withdrawal method use up. Emergency contraception use up; Depo-Provera use down. Does not seem consistent with hypothesis. As saith David Friedman, son of Milton, being better informed about the risks of sex may make people take more of them:

Strange how I read nothing of what you said in what Friedman wrote if taken in context...

Even if you assume he is actually correct on the facts, which he is not.

AIDS is not a "gay disease" in Africa nor is AIDS any more incurable that all the STDs were before WWII when sex ed became integral to military training, and herpes is still as incurable as AIDS and increasingly some other STDs which have become antibiotic resistant.

And as a teen in the 60s, STDs were taught in sex ed as being as horrible as Friedman seems to want AIDS to be taught, and that didn't seem to have any impact on the supermajority of my peers claiming sexual exploits. The people not having sex or admitting to it, were not claiming religion or fear, but career as the reason whether college bound or union apprenticeship to get established before burdened with kids. But then, the strong unions meant knocking up a girl friend and forced into a shotgun wedding was not the end of the world because a high school dropout would earn more than the college bound until at least age 30 at the factory. (Indiana with the spill over from Detroit and surrounding States exploiting the idle farmers when not planting or harvesting.)

Today the risks of sex is not your life ruined by STDs but ruined by pregnancy reducing the rest of your life to poverty with conservatives constantly you blaming you for choosing poverty and worse, blaming your kids for choosing to be born into poverty, choosing to be born and raised in urban high crime, poor quality, school districts.

The real scare away from teen sex: "do you want to be forced into a life of poverty like me?"

"Today the risks of sex is not your life ruined by STDs but ruined by pregnancy reducing the rest of your life to poverty with conservatives constantly you blaming you for choosing poverty and worse, blaming your kids for choosing to be born into poverty, choosing to be born and raised in urban high crime, poor quality, school districts."

Your statement appears to be colored by hatred of conservatives, rather than an honest appraisal of the situation.

Is that in line with an increasing ethnic diversity? Maybe some cultural factors at play.

Teenage pregnancy among Asian-Americans is very low but among the largest immigrant group - Hispanics - it is the highest of all ethnicities.

It's more likely a case of Average is Over.

According to Curtis and Hunt (2007) the problem is probably being caused by the fellatio epidemic. Young girls are competing for status within their own peer groups by performing fellatio on high status older males (not that old!, just old enough to be cool). Also, according to numerous researchers, most girls don't consider casual fellatio as "sex", possibly boys either (and a certain ex-president of the USA), which is why they are having less "sex".

It was a lot different when I was a kid (sigh).

That makes sense.

Given that many men prefer fellatio to "real" sex and that it cannot result in pregnancy, it seems like everyone is winning in this arrangement.

What does the girl get out of it?

Status. What girls always get out of sex.

Only if it's videotaped and distributed on the Internet.

There are other, better reasons why females have sex.

The cost of accepting being a virgin has been lowered? Perhaps we have now more status references for teens. Before, it was the only one.

It's still the only one.

I'm a college student and I can't think of anyone who "accepts" being a virgin. Even the Mormon kid refused to talk about it. Everyone either refused to talk about it or had some story.

Interesting. It has been my experience that the cost of 'admitting' to being a virgin has decreased dramatically over the last ~15 years in college-bound people of both sexes. I've seen young men of middling-to-high social status at elite universities mention their virginity - or the relatively late loss of their virginity - in conversation in mixed-sex groups with no obvious negative reaction. I suspect there's less anxiety about the sex supply today, possibly because the 'market' is more transparent with fewer barriers to participation. It's possible that the high future orientation needed to delay sex is competing with ability to find partners as a highschooler as a status marker in some subgroups of young people. Additionally, now that religiosity is no longer assumed, it is more acceptable to explain sexual inexperience with sincere religious belief.

I would be curious if the promiscuity is up among the males getting some. I.e. because female monagomy is frowned upon nowdays by popular culture that 13% drop for males is supply side, I.e. inferior boys having a harder time getting inferior girls.

Is there a shortage of teenage male liquidity, or is it that austerity is working?

I think most of that extra liquidity is being saved in old socks and kleenexes.

I think that 'informed about sex in quite some detail' is a more likely explanation. When you lower mystery and secrecy, you lower curiosity. An urge to experience it for yourself remains, but that is only part of the old package deal, where the promise of illiciteness and discovery were important ingredients.

Teens are far more savvy about polls, and wary of "confidentiality".

Yeah, I was going to say, teens are probably more wary now of admitting to anything, regardless of promises of "anonymity" - because of, you guessed it, the internets.

Tyler cleverly increasing site traffic from those searching for "great teen sex."

Seems like internet pornography would explain it better than smartphones...

I think it's more likely that helicopter parenting has reduced the opportunities for teens to have sex.

The other day I was talking to a co-worker who was discussing her son's graduation party. This party was held by the school, chaperoned by school staff, under "lock down" until dawn, and with no alcohol allowed. The provided lots of fun games for the kids to play, food, and dancing, but, basically the entire thing was clearly set up specifically to prevent teens from drinking or having sex. I can see no other reason why they had to be locked in the building all night.

Also, as I understand it, fewer teens and young adults are getting driver's licences, and not having a car also reduces opportunities for sex.

A generation ago, the typical party was a dance that kids would drive their dates to and then an after party at someone's house or a hotel room.
Things have certainly changed.

Re: Not having a car also reduces the opportunities for sex.

One of the benefits of mass transit.

And here I am thinking that it's a shame kids can't have as much sex as I did. Or wanted to.

Side topic: In the future, older professional moms will raise their grandchildren instead of their children. Women will have kids right away at 20, give them to their parents to raise, and then proceed with their career and raise their grandkids when their kids get teen pregnant later on in their 30s and 40s. It's a system that could create large extended families, raise the birth rate, and increase opportunities for women to have both career and family without sacrificing either.

Andrew' used to promote this idea. I think it has problems: It's a lot harder taking care of kids at 60 than at 30. There are only so many grandparents to go around, so the idea doesn't scale (a grandparent with four kids can't take care of four-kids-per-kid). The cultures where this is already common seem to have abysmally low birth rates.

I'm all for greater grandparent involvement, which seems to have hit a low in white America. Current grandparents are the same people who drove the divorce peak thirty years ago, so maybe there's just something strange about them. But I don't think they are going to be a reasonable substitute for the SAHM.

I should add that having your mother-in-law live with you can be a difficult experience and may, ahem, discourage attempts at further children.

I imagine the paradigm would be matriarchal, one grandmother per household, and typically only the children of daughters would live with the maternal grandmother. Children of sons would go with the daughter-in-law's mother (their maternal grandmother), unless for some reason the maternal grandmother was deemed unfit. Also keep in mind I'm imaginging that some girls would just get knocked up in their teens or early 20s, and hand the kids over, so the biological fathers would be largely absent. I guess if birth rates remained low, you might have 1-2 daughters, and that daughter would have 2 kids, so you end up with maybe 3-4 kids in your houshold in your 40s. I don't think that's unreasonable., In fact it sounds like exactly the right kind of family mix that someone in their 40s, well settled into their career and marriage might want and be able to afford.

Also, after surrendering their kids, the daughters would live with their boyfriends/husbands as DINKs well into their 30s in a separate household. Maybe a nice condo in a hip urban area. Until their own kids had kids.

Not to belabor the issue, but I also have a sneaking suspicion that some professional moms who had kids later in life might just ... not be too concerned about their teen daughters getting pregnant. Especially if their age limited the number of children they were able to have. Teen gets knocked up at 14, that's just a bonus baby to mom. "Here honey, I'll take that, you go on and go to college now..."

Hazel, how does your prediction square with rapidly declining (not increasing) teen birth rates?

It's a prediction for the future, not the present.

I suspect that there are going to be lots of professional moms in the future who want more children than they are able to have. And that will lead to reversal in birth rate declines amoung teens as parents kinda-sorta stop caring if their kids get pregnant early. The fact that women are getting more college degrees than men may be a leading indicator of that future.

FWIW, I've long thought that "daughter makes it to 44 without having kids" is a worse outcome than "daughter gets knocked up at 16." Particularly if the (grand)parents are able to shoulder some of the daughter's load.

That's not new. I graduated in 1990 and our school had a lock in all night party for graduation.

Wow. Glad I graduated in 1971. I wouldn't go to a lock-in anything.

Interesting comment that "fewer teens and young adults are getting driver’s licences". Why do you think that is? Are teens spending more time at home on their iPhones and iPads, parents taking them everywhere, increased laziness?

Youth unemployment. Poor people can't buy cars.

Both of those, also more kids growing up urban (don't need a car, that's what Uber is for), etc.

Also see Keith's answer below, there does seem to be a new morality about wanton sex forming, and if you ask Charles Murray or Ross Douthat or many others that may not be such a bad thing.

"Both of those, also more kids growing up urban (don’t need a car, that’s what Uber is for), etc."
-Well, that's nonsense.

"(don’t need a car, that’s what Uber is for)" Damn kids, knock it off back there!

The iPhone allows you to stay in touch with your friends. You don't have to drive down to the local mall to hang out. You can hang out at home and still feel connected.

Immigration means no more teen jobs. Also, the pressure to perform unpaid work (internships) and to defer work until one has competed an ever increasing set of certifications means that people start earning money later rather than sooner.

I think there are two major factors. The internet, texting, and social networks are a partial substitute for face-to-face interaction. That's also why driving is down among teens.

I also agree with a poster above that helicopter parenting plays a role. I'm a father of an 8 year old and I still wonder when I can turn him loose (for me the answer was 5, when I learned to ride a bike).

I have two explanations:

1. The pussification of the American male.
2. Teenage girls are too busy with homework and after school activities.

Seems like the American male could use more pussification. So to speak.

Not when anything you do in the awkward fumbling of young love can land you on a sex offender list because of her crazy parents. I also read once that a 14 year old was ordered to pay alimony for his baby momma, who was in her 20s. No statutory rape there.

I also think the atomization of society is making the average child more reticent in his relations with his peers.

Did the fear mongering about 'rape culture' create a new Puritanism?

Um, more like it's a newish aspect of the same old Puritanism?

A few things to note:
- The decline in sexual activity begins pre-smartphone and even pre-Internet era
- Trend seems to have leveled out in the smartphone era (2010+)
- The biggest kink (pun intended) in the curve, especially for boys, coincides with the widespread adoption of the Internet

If I had to assign magnitudes to the factors involved:
- Honest answering / better surveying techniques - 15% (especially for 88-95 drop)
- Internet - access to information - 5%
- Internet - pornography as substitute - 30% (literature review vs experimentation)
- Female opportunity expansion - 35% - women delaying 1st IC until college (or after) where mate quality viewed to be significantly higher than the (for all intents and purposes) random assignment to a hometown and high school. Consequences of earlier IC may jeopardize. [Yes, I know this drifts into female hypergamy territory, but I think phenomenon is real, understudied, and has expanded with the Internet and pop culture touchstones like Sex in the City]
- Other substitutes, like smartphone usage and social media generally - 15%
- Other - 5%

Yeah, I can totally believe that easy access to online porn acts as a substitute for teen boys, especially if they are shy about dating.
Constant availability of porn keeps the horniness level a shade lower, and thus reduces the need to overcome the fear of rejection.

How odd this is the one thread R L failed to post on yet!

Over 50 million abortions since 1973 and nobody thinks this is a factor? I would bet this is the largest factor.


Because the genes that existed in people who regretted some results their sexual activity are being destroyed. That's evolution.


There's a massive die-off of people who can't get and stay married going on. It used to be unmarried fooling around led to kids. Now it pretty much doesn't. At least for the population with IQ>90.

But it's more the pill than abortion that's responsible.

There is something to what you claim, but your phrasing implies that marriage rates should have increased since the pill and abortion became widespread. Is this true?

What about just saying there is a massive die-off of people with low levels of self-control or maybe people with short term thinking. My own "just so" story is that for hundreds of thousands of years, risk-takers sought new physical environments and won the evolutionary game because they discovered places like North America. Around the time that civilization had settled most of the world's land mass, these risk-taking genes were maladaptive. This is some time around the industrial revolution. As human populations become denser and more structured, risk-taking becomes less and less acceptable to society, and the pill, abortion, ADHD drugs, prisons etc. are the things society creates to squeeze out the last remnants of risk-taking genes and behavior.

This is a good book that explores some of these themes:

Presumably there'd be some time for the pill to have its effect. But divorce peaked 30-something years ago. We're well into the marriage rebound. I'd guess it will take several generations for this to work its way through the system, before the average white professional family has 4 kids again.

The average white professional family will never have 4 kids again. Why is it so hard for some people to accept demographic science?

Maybe because that isn't consensus demographic science? Demographers are all over the map on this point.

Logically I would assume that if there's a genetic component to horniness then everyone would have some kind of horniness/emotional control ratio. Those with a high ratio would tend to have more unplanned pregnancies and would thus be more apt to have an abortion. So, the high ratio progeny would be a lesser percentage of the total new births per year. And this, when factored over 40 years and a significant portion of the births in the period, would likely result in a population change.

It's quite possibly a significant factor, though I suspect political factors would pressure researchers against exploring it.

The pill basically removes the short-term thinking of your brain regarding reproduction. It used to be that that short-term optimization for sex over consequences would lead to children some fraction of the time. Now it basically doesn't. So only people who want children with the long-term parts of their brains will reproduce, and in a hundred years all that will be left are their descendants.

I'm not sure if I buy this.
The same people who are the most horny are also least likely to use protection, or birth control. And not everyone who gets pregnant will get an abortion. Given that hornier people will get pregnant more often, there is likely to still be a positive correlation between horniness and number of offspring. Even if that correlation is weakened somewhat, I really don't see how you can argue that more horniness leads to less offspring.

"The same people who are the most horny are also least likely to use protection, or birth control."

I don't think that's true. As far as I can tell, inability to use the pill is associated with stupidity rather than any extra-strong love of sex. There are plenty of promiscuous people who are very capable of using birth control. They'll all be gone in 100 years.

In fairness, in 2100 we will be left with the people that really, really want children and the incredibly stupid. Assuming we continue to pay for the incredibly stupid peoples' children.

"So only people who want children with the long-term parts of their brains will reproduce, and in a hundred years all that will be left are their descendants."

Yes, and you make a good point.

"In fairness, in 2100 we will be left with the people that really, really want children and the incredibly stupid. Assuming we continue to pay for the incredibly stupid peoples’ children. "

"There are plenty of promiscuous people who are very capable of using birth control. They’ll all be gone in 100 years" - yeah, because no one promiscuous has ever settled down and gotten married and had kids before.

This topic gets lots of smart people to really overthink stuff.

Promiscuous is poor word choice. I suppose I really meant inability to find a long-term partner and stay in a relationship. People who can't get and stay married. That's probably not exactly the same as the 25 year olds who come on here and say "I'm never getting married and I'm never having kids. Look what happened to my uncle!" A 25 year old telling you what he'll be like at 35 is like a 6 year old telling you what he'll be like at 16.

You forget the existence of other ethnicities with significantly different reproductive behavior who aren't responding to the usual demographic shift imperative. Niger comes to mind, where people say they would like 40 kids, but make do with 7. In 100 years, all that will be left are the descendants you cited and billions of Africans trying to migrate to their countries.

I've seen it referred to as "novelty seeking." There is a genetic component associated with it (actually, a particular gene according to one study).

I am a 49 year old male who lost his virginity at age 18. Growing up, sex was a huge mystery for me and the other boys I grew up with- all we had were the occasional pilfered Playboys, Penthouses, or Ouis from our fathers- and the mystery of it was only really dispelled by actual fumbling sex itself. If I and my friends had had the porn available today, I hate to think how much time we would have spent jerking off in our rooms rather than trying to talk a girl into giving us a chance.

For the last 30 years religious people have been having many more children that the non-religious. That could be a factor.

I also think this is a plausible explanation.
I am occasionally mystified when I stumble across young people on college campuses and discover that the number of jesus freaks has not in any way declined, and may even have increased.

Christianity (and other religions) both encourages people to actively try to have children and to not abort the unplanned ones. In the long run, the modern variant of Atheistic, me first individualism is an evolutionary dead end. And by observation the Long Term Fertility of that group is very low. Probably less than 1.

Except how did there get to be so many of those atheistic types? Maybe people grow up and think for themselves?

Basic 'natural selection' theories just do not work when you are talking about humans and birth control. Animals do not plan their families. People do. People decide when and how many kids to have, it's not 'natural'. The 'fittest' humans (Bill Gates, Tom Brady, whomever) would, if they were animals, produce hundreds of offspring. They do not.

Those who don't have good genetics for making babies....STILL can via unnatural means. Those born with the propensity to sleep around....STILL DON'T make lots of babies, because of the pill/IUDs/etc. It's a step change, you simply can't apply those theories the way you can to populations of finches or monkeys or wolves or eagles.

You make it sound like brains can't evolve.

Also, these things only need to be heritable for evolution to work on them. They don't need to be genetic. Mormonism, for example, is highly heritable but obviously not genetic.

Jason Collins has written about the math of this sort of thing. Others have written about the religiosity/fertility connection - I'm not as convinced by that. I'd expect the forces of evolution to be the strongest where they've most directly confronted obstacles that cause differential fertility, and that's rich, intelligent, and educated people. Those are the people most devastated by birth control and other technological shocks, so those are the people where fertility will rebound the most.

Religion delays sexual contact, it does not lower it.

I wonder how the distribution might have changed. There are a lot more tools now to find hook ups in a variety of ways. I suspect the best looking teens are having more sex, with more & better (whatever their definition of) partners. Average is probably over for teens too.

Also, the internet / cell phone (huge overlap obviously) offers a lot more porn, including home made / reciprocal porn (sexting, etc).

Yep. Most of the hookup apps disproportionately allow average girls to more easily sleep with hot guys, but on the male side its only the most attractive who are having more sex. Men are more willing to drop their standards for casual sex, whereas women actually increase their physical standards for a hookup.

"The recode variable HADSEX indicates whether the respondent ever had vaginal sexual intercourse, referred to in this report simply as sexual intercourse. "

They've excluded a lot of behavior that we might otherwise qualify as "sex". Since at least some of the interest was in teenage childbearing they were not too interested in sexual activity that could not lead to pregnancy. In particular, if there is a shift to greater acceptance of homosexual activity among teens this survey would read it as less sex.

"Teens are both better informed about the risks of sex and…they have something else to do."

That "something" being whacking it to porn.

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