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Elizabeth Boskey, Ph.D.

Is it time yet?

By May 18, 2012

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In an article from the upcoming June issue of the American Journal of Public Health, two scientists from UNC Chapel Hill analyzed data from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health to see how and when today's teenagers begin to experiment with sex. The study, which collected data from almost 14,000 teenagers, is one of only a few large surveys to examine not just vaginal intercourse but other types of sexual activity.

The researchers found that, by the age of 18, 67.4 percent of teens had experienced oral sex, 75.2 percent had experienced vaginal intercourse, and 10.7 percent had experienced anal sex. The researchers also explored what type of sex each teenager tried first. They were hoping to answer questions such as whether teens see oral sex as a safer alternative to intercourse and thus decide to experiment with it before exploring other things. However, what they found was somewhat surprising. While 14.7 percent of the teens did have oral sex before they had intercourse, 33.3 percent had vaginal intercourse first, and 32.6 did both at the same age. That suggested that, for most teens, oral sex probably isn't used as a way to delay other sexual activities.

Interestingly, if not surprisingly, the researchers also found that there were some significant racial and ethnic differences in the ways that teens initiated and experimented with sexual activity. For example, 62 percent of Black teens had vaginal intercourse first, compared to 26 percent of White teens and 38 percent of Hispanic teens. However, White teens were significantly more likely to have had oral sex than Asians, Hispanics, or Blacks.

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