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This recent decline in teenage pregnancy rates reflects increased attention to the importance of pregnancy prevention, increased access to birth control, and increased economic opportunities for teenagers (Ventura et al., 2001). However, in examining teen sexual behavior trends more closely, Risman and Schwartz (2002) emphasize the steadily decreasing percentages of sexually active teens throughout the 1990s, as documented by reliable and well-sampled studies. The age at first intercourse has been decreasing for women, while the average age at first intercourse for men has been increasing. In fact, Risman and Schwartz report that, for whites, girls are more likely to be sexually active by age 17 than boys. For blacks and Hispanics, boys are still more likely to report sexual intercourse, but the gaps are closing.
To explain these trends, Risman and Schwartz hypothesize that, as cultural norms for female sexuality have changed to allow and even expect premarital sexual activity—but only in the context of relationships—patterns of teen sexual behavior have shifted as well. They suggest first sexual intercourse happens most often within the context of relationships. And, as there is evidence suggesting that women are more responsible regarding risks of disease and pregnancy (Risman and Schwartz, 2002), girls’ greater control of sexual intercourse (as evidenced by boys “waiting” for them) would certainly help account for trends of decreasing teen pregnancy.
In the United States, 10% of adolescent males report having sexual experiences with someone of the same gender, compared with 6% of adolescent females (Bancroft, et al., 2003). These adolescents usually report that their first experience was with another adolescent. In some cases the person has only one or a few such experiences, partly out of curiosity, and the behavior is discontinued.