Wednesday, October 28, 2020

U.S. Teens Having Less Sex — but Stigmatizing Sexuality Does More Harm than Good

In late August, the Centers for Disease and Control and Prevention released the results of its biennial Youth Risk Behavior Survey, showing that in 2019, 38.4 percent of high school students in the United States had experienced sexual intercourse. The number is 15.7 points lower than the 54.1 percent of high school students who reported having had sexual intercourse in 1991 (the year the survey started tracking sexual experiences).

I am consistently surprised by the ways older teenage and young adult students report having had their sexuality stigmatized and devalued.

As a researcher who specializes in teenage sexuality and culture in comparative perspective, I was struck by framing: The Youth Risk Behavior Survey frames adolescent sexuality as a risk behavior, rather than a normal and developmentally appropriate exploration. The CDC website describes the survey as an effort to understand the “leading causes of illness, death, and disability” among youths. This framing itself is damaging to adolescents and deprives them of the guidance they need from trusted adults at home, at school or in the doctor’s office.

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