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of sexual activity.
Toward the middle and the end of adolescence in the U.S., more young people engage in heterosexual intercourse. Women are engaging in sexual intercourse for the first time at younger ages, compared with young women 35 years ago (Trussel & Vaughn, 1991). In the United States, patterns of premarital intercourse vary by ethnic group. African Americans have intercourse for the first time, on average, at 15.7 years, Whites at 16.6 years, Hispanics at 17, and Asian American men at 18.1. Among Blacks and Hispanics, men begin having intercourse at younger ages than women (Upchurch, et al., 1998). These variations reflect differences between these groups in family structure, church attendance, and socioeconomic opportunities in the larger society (Day, 1992). It is likely that similar differences are characteristic of other developed, multiracial societies.
Changing rates of premarital intercourse are associated with two long-term trends in western societies. First, the age of menarche has been falling steadily since the beginning of the 20th century. The average age is 12.5 years for African Americans and 12.7 years for Whites (Hofferth, 1990). Second, the age of first marriage has been rising. In the United States in 1960, first marriages occurred at (median) age 20.3 for women and 22.8 for men; in 2003, it was 25.3 years for women and 27.1 years for men (U.S. Bureau of the Census, 2004). The effect is a substantial lengthening of the time between biological readiness and marriage; that gap is typically 12 to 15 years today. Thus, many more young adults are having sex before they get married than in 1960. In the United States, many sexually active teenage persons do not use contraception, which led to a corresponding rise in pregnancy rates among single adolescents from 1970 to 1991. However, from 1991 to 1999 the rate of teen pregnancy declined 25%.