Teen sexual activity and consequences such as pregnancy appear to be on the decline, according to a study appearing in “Contexts,” a new journal from the American Sociological Association. Sociologists Barbara Risman of North Carolina State University and Pepper Schwartz of the University of Washington-Seattle analyzed statistics from various sources, including studies and interviews on teen behavior.The researchers, who are affiliated with the Council on Contemporary Families, found that the percentage of teens between the ages of 15 and 17 who had sexual intercourse declined to 48.4 percent in 1997 from 54.1 percent in 1991. In addition, the teen pregnancy rate dropped 17 percent from 1990 to 1996, and the teen abortion rate dropped 16 percent over the first half of the 1990s. Moreover, an analysis of a government study of 10,000 teens under the age of 18 found that while the number of girls who had sex dropped from 51 percent in 1991 to 48 percent in 1997, the number of boys who had intercourse declined more significantly from 57 percent to 49 percent over the same period.
Social scientists’ explanations for the decline range from a “fear of disease” to an increase in abstinence messages. Brady Welch, an 18-year-old from Mount Pleasant, South Carolina, said that religion “is pretty important among teenagers,” especially those in rural areas, adding that abstinence messages are “getting through.”