Guttmacher Study Shows Reductions in Teen Sexual Activity


Recently, a pair of researchers affiliated with the Guttmacher Institute published a study in the public health journal Pediatrics. (The article is behind a paywall.) The researchers used data from the National Survey of Family Growth (NSFG) to track teen sexual activity over time.

The study found that sexual activity among young teens is rare.  According to the article, less than 8 percent of all teens have had sex by their 14th birthday. On the Guttmacher webpage they are using this study to argue that conservative concerns about pre-teen sexual activity are overstated.

However, this article contains other key findings which should interest social conservatives and pro-lifers.  It adds to a body of evidence which indicates that teens are delaying sexual activity.

The median age for first-time sexual intercourse  consistently declined for every birth cohort from the late 1930s to the late 1970s.  Among those born in 1978, the median age for first-time sexual intercourse was 17 years of age.  However, starting with the 1978 birth cohort, the median age for first sexual intercourse began to gradually increase, approaching 18 years of age for those born in 1991.

This delay in sexual activity offers two public benefits.

First, less sexual activity reduces the incidence of teen pregnancies.

Second, the results of the study indicate that when faced with a pregnancy, older teens are much less likely to submit to an abortion than younger teens.  Countless pundits give increased contraception use credit for the decline in the teen birthrate and the teen abortion rate. However, solid data from both the Centers for Disease Control and the National Survey of Family Growth indicates that a welcome reduction in teen sexual activity is also playing an important role.

The views expressed here are those of the author, and do not necessarily represent the views of


About Author

MICHAEL J. NEW, Ph.D., is an assistant professor of political science at the University of Michigan – Dearborn. He is also an Adjunct Scholar at the Charlotte Lozier Institute, the Research and Education Arm of the Susan B. Anthony List. A Phi Beta Kappa graduate from Dartmouth College, Dr. New received a master’s degree in statistics and a doctorate in political science from Stanford University in 2002. Before coming to Michigan, Dr. New worked as a postdoctoral researcher at the Harvard-MIT Data Center and later taught at The University of Alabama. Dr. New researches and writes about the social science of pro-life issues. He gives presentations on both the positive impact of pro-laws and the gains in public support for the pro-life position. He is a frequent blogger on National Review Online's "The Corner." Dr. New's study pro-life legislation was recently published by State Politics and Policy Quarterly. Four of his other studies on the effects of pro-life legislation have been published by the Heritage Foundation and another study was published by Family Research Council in 2008.

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