Teen drama: Sex drops among 15- to 19-year-olds — or maybe not
Survey reports decline, but some young people skeptical over numbers
Caitlin Abelson, 20, center, attends a class on human sexuality this month at Oakton Community College in Des Plaines. (Keri Wiginton/Chicago Tribune)
Which might suggest that adolescents are having sex as frequently as they download a song — except they aren't, according to the latest research.
Since 1988, the percentage of 15- to 19-year-olds who have had sexual intercourse has dropped from 60 percent of males and 51 percent of females to slightly more than 40 percent of both groups, according to a recently released survey by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
But to some teens, the issues may be more nuanced and complex — and still cause parental hand-wringing.
Consider students in professor Cary Schawel's human sexuality class at Oakton Community College in Des Plaines. On a recent morning, nearly 70 percent of them reported having sex between the ages of 15 and 19.
Welcome to the tangled universe of teen sexuality.
"I look at this group, and they seem so young and inexperienced," said Carla Serantoni, who has taught health education at Lane Tech High School in Chicago for 13 years, "but that doesn't mean that they are."
In other findings from the CDC survey, teens who report having sex for the first time are using contraception much more than they were two decades ago.
The survey, which included interviews of 4,662 teenagers between 2006 and 2010, yielded other notable results:
•Slightly more than half of the 15- to 19-year-old males said their first sexual intercourse was with a steady dating partner, compared with about 70 percent of females. Those figures have remained relatively unchanged for years.
•The percentages of teens who reported having their first sexual encounter with someone they had "just met" or whom they were "just friends" with remained relatively unchanged for both genders: about 15 percent for females, about 30 percent for males.
•About 41 percent of women who had reported having sex as teens said they "really wanted it to happen" at the time. Eleven percent said they "really didn't." Nearly 63 percent of men reported they were enthusiastic about their first sexual encounter, compared with 5 percent who said they didn't want it to happen.
The complexity of the subject was on display in Schawel's class at Oakton. Many of the teenagers and young 20-somethings were surprised by some results from the CDC report. A survey of the 26 students showed that most said they had had sexual intercourse between ages 15 and 19.
One reason the statistics indicated a drop in sexual intercourse may have been that the CDC researchers didn't include young-enough kids, said Kevin Kordvani, of Northbrook, and several classmates.
"When I was younger, sex was (talked about), but it wasn't that big a deal until end of junior high or beginning of high school," said Kordvani, 22. "Now I'm hearing it's big in the beginning of junior high. That's 11 years old."
Kordvani said he had his first sexual intercourse at about 15, after pressure from his girlfriend. He said he believes the level of never-married adolescents having sex probably is closer to 50 percent. Others in class agreed.
Of his first sexual encounter, Kordvani said he "was definitely too young" and felt as if he may have been emotionally scarred from it.
Dasha Korshukova, 19, of Glenview, said the roughly 42 percent of teens having sex "was hard to believe because there's so much stuff" in the media that pushes teens toward sex. She said her first sexual intercourse occurred at 15 with a boy she had known for about a year and had dated for nearly a month.
As a young girl, Korshukova said, she recalled episodes of the popular "Friends" TV show "talking about penis size and sex." Sexual influences have "gotten worse since then," she said, pointing to the movie "True Blood" and the TV show "Californication" as recent examples of entertainment that promotes sexual promiscuity among young people.