Beyond Spin the Bottle

Statistics and analysis about teen sex.

Sex Ed

In October 2006, New Jersey became the fourth state to reject federal funding for abstinence-only programs. The state had been receiving money since 1997, and in 2005 got nearly $5 million for preaching “Just say no.” Commissioners said they rejected funding because of “medical inaccuracies” in the federal rules, which also require that recipients “not promote contraception and/or condom use.” A November report from the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy said abstinence-only programs have little impact, while comprehensive sex ed often persuades teens to reduce the number of sexual partners, increase condom or contraceptive use, have sex less often, or delay it entirely.

Rainbow Parties
High school girls come to these shindigs wearing different shades of brightly colored lipstick. The boys then try to rack up all the “colors of the rainbow” through oral sex. A 2003 Oprah Winfrey show and a 2005 book, Rainbow Party, by Paul Ruditis, raised questions about whether rainbow parties were isolated incidents or a trend. Slightly more than half of American teens fifteen to nineteen, have had oral sex, according to a 2005 report by the National Center for Health Statistics. Teens still debate (thanks to Bill Clinton?) whether oral sex truly is sex. The Journal of Adolescent Health reported in August on a study of more than 1,100 teens and how they define virginity. Seventy percent said that giving or receiving oral sex does not compromise one’s virginity.

In the Garden State, 26 percent of ninth-grade students reported being sexually active in 2005. Among high school seniors the figure rose to 68 percent. Things are not much different elsewhere. In 2005, 44 percent of all New Jersey high school students were sexually active, compared to a national average of 47 percent. In the face of pressure to be sexually active, some teens are pledging chastity. Yet temptation is great, according to the 2004 National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health. Conducted over six years, the study found that 88 percent of teens who had pledged to abstain from sex until they married admitted having premarital sexual intercourse. The teens developed sexually transmitted diseases at a rate almost equal to that of teens who had not pledged abstinence.

Birth Control
In 2005, 71 percent of New Jersey’s sexually active high school boys reported wearing a condom during their most recent sexual experience. (Sixteen percent of girls reported using an oral contraceptive.) New Jersey courts have struck down laws requiring parental notification before minors can buy contraceptives. Last October a middle school in Maine began providing birth control to students. In an AP-Ispos national poll that month, 49 percent of respondents said issuing birth control encourages teens to have sex; 49 percent said it does not. Overall, 67 percent of those polled supported giving contraceptives to students, most asserting that it would help reduce teen pregnancy. Those in favor of dispensing birth control at schools were split almost equally as to whether contraceptives should be given to students only with parental consent, or to any student who asks for them.

Teen Pregnancy
At least teen pregnancy is at an all-time low. In 2005, U.S. teen births fell to about 40 per thousand girls ages fifteen to nineteen, the lowest rate in 65 years of data. Still, almost 750,000 teens become pregnant each year. New Jersey’s teen pregnancy rate declined 6 percent from 1992 to 2000. In 2000, there were 23,080 pregnancies among fifteen- to nineteen-year-olds. Of those, 53 percent ended in abortion.

Sex Bracelets
Across the country, some middle and high schools have banned “jelly bracelets,” those colorful, innocent wristlets made fashionable in the ’80s by Madonna. Today parents and school officials are trying to crack down on use of the accessories as sex bracelets, where each color represents a different sexual act the wearer is willing to do.

Hooky Parties and Chicken Parties
Playing hooky used to mean just skipping school. Now, among some teens, it means skipping school to attend a sex party. In 2006, another disturbing phenomenon came to light—the oral-sex chicken party. (The name refers to the bobbing motion of a chicken’s head.) A recent NBC News/People poll reported that 96 percent of teens who say they have had oral sex claim they have never been to an oral sex party. In the same poll, 15 percent reported first having oral sex at thirteen, 27 percent at fourteen.

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