Survey: Teens More Tolerant Of Single Motherhood A new survey of teenagers and sex signals some big changes in attitudes. For example, an overwhelming majority of teens now say that having babies outside of marriage is OK. But the new attitudes haven't carried over into changes in actual sexual behavior -- the rate of sex among teenagers has remained the same for about a decade.
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Survey: Teens More Tolerant Of Single Motherhood

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Survey: Teens More Tolerant Of Single Motherhood

Survey: Teens More Tolerant Of Single Motherhood

Survey: Teens More Tolerant Of Single Motherhood

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  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/127373410/127373944" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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A new survey of teenagers and sex signals some big changes in attitudes. For example, an overwhelming majority of teens now say that having babies outside of marriage is OK. But the new attitudes haven't carried over into changes in actual sexual behavior — the rate of sex among teenagers has remained the same for about a decade.

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

From NPR News, it's ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.

A new survey of teenagers is out today, and the subject is sex. It shows little change in the numbers of teens having sex, but it also shows a big change in attitudes toward premarital sex.

NPR's Brenda Wilson has the story.

BRENDA WILSON: In the new survey from the National Center for Health Statistics, unmarried teenagers between 15 and 19 were asked a wide range of questions about their behavior and their attitudes toward sex.

The behavior hasn't changed much since the last survey, in 2002. More than half of the teens say they are sexually active. If they are younger, the number is lower. But by 18, the vast majority of them are.

Not 20-year-old Jacqueline Shephard(ph) of Orlando, Florida.

Ms. JACQUELINE SHEPHARD: Well, I am a virgin so I haven't had sex yet. But I know of many people who have lost their virginity in their teen years, and they're fine. So as long as you decide when the time is right for you, I think it's OK.

WILSON: Shephard was walking past the classrooms at George Washington University, where she's going to summer school. Shephard was just as open-minded about a woman having a baby if she were single.

Ms. SHEPHARD: That's fine. I mean, it's their choice. And if they want to have children when they're single, they're allowed to.

WILSON: Between 2002 and 2008, the survey showed that the proportion of teens who thought it was OK for women to have babies if they were single increased from 50 percent to more than 60 percent for boys, and remained at over 70 percent for girls.

The very idea seemed to sadden 20-year-old Christina Walt(ph).

Ms. CHRISTINA WALT: I think it sucks.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. WALT: I believe that children should have a mother and a father. And they should be husband and wife, and live in a home that you grow up in, with a mother and a dad that are married and love each other.

(Soundbite of laughter)

WILSON: That's what she's holding out for.

Ms. WALT: I've never had sex.

WILSON: She's waiting for the right guy. In fact, more than half of teenagers up to 19 years of age say they haven't had sex. But the reason they most often give is that it's against their religion and morals to do so. That's a change from previous surveys, where fear of pregnancy was the main reason for delaying sex.

That was one of Chad Osbecki's(ph) fears, but he thought carefully about what he wanted to do. He didn't rush into anything. He waited until he was 17, and he took precautions.

Mr. CHAD OSBECKI: I didn't think twice. I used a condom. I know what happens. I mean, there's not only sexually transmitted diseases - I mean, that's the least of my concern. But pregnancy is scary. I want to do well, and that's the last of my concerns - is to have a child.

WILSON: Most teens seem to feel the way Osbecki does. But for Sarah Brown of the National Campaign to Prevent Unplanned Pregnancy, the scariest part of this report is that about a fourth of the unmarried teenagers said they would be pleased if they or a partner had a baby.

Ms. SARAH BROWN (CEO, National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy): That is an important thing to face up to, that we may think that teens want to avoid pregnancy and when it happens, they're distressed and it was fully unintended. But, in fact, some portion of teen pregnancy is welcomed.

WILSON: The results of this survey, Brown says, is just another indicator that progress in reducing teen pregnancy has stalled. Greater freedom and having children out of wedlock is one thing, she says, but this may not be the way society wants to go.

Brenda Wilson, NPR News.

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