Study: More Young People Scorn Sex

A new federal survey found that 27 percent of young men and 29 percent of young women ages 15 to 24 say they've never had a sexual encounter. In 2002, 22 percent of both men and women said they had never had any sort of sex.

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

It's not quite a revolution, but it is a significant change for teenagers in this country. More and more teens appear to be postponing sexual activity. NPR's Nancy Shute reports.

NANCY SHUTE: Watch TV and you'd think that all young people are having sex. But a big new federal survey of teenagers and adults ages 15 to 24 says that's really not true. Almost 30 percent say they have never had a sexual encounter. That's up a lot from 2002 when just 22 percent of teens and young adults said that they'd never had any sort of sex.

Experts aren't sure if this is a trend, but teen pregnancy rates are down and use of condoms and birth control is up. Pediatrician John Santelli is a senior fellow at the Guttmacher Institute which studies sexual health.

Dr. JOHN SANTELLI (Senior Fellow, Guttmacher Institute): You know, I see a generation of adolescence who are very concerned about making the right life choices, you know, trying to take care of their health, trying to take care of their responsibilities in school and perhaps this kind of data reflects that. It's hard to know.

SHUTE: The study, called the National Survey of Family Growth, raised a ruckus in 2002 when it reported that most teenagers had oral sex. That raised concerns that teens were thinking of this as safe sex when it still puts them at risk of sexually transmitted infections including HIV. This latest version of the survey found that teenagers do tend to have it before first intercourse, but that they probably aren't using it to significantly delay other sexual activity.

Nancy Shute, NPR News, Washington.

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