The Sexual Attitudes and Behavior of Male Teens

National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy
October 1, 2003
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THE NATIONAL CAMPAIGN TO PREVENT TEEN PREGNANCY
www.teenpregnancy.org ¦ 202.478.8500 ¦ campaign@teenpregnancy.org
Sexual Activity
Sexual Experience
¦ Forty six percent of all high
school students say they are sexually
experienced (that is, they
have had sexual intercourse).
Male students (49 percent) are
more likely than female students
(43 percent) to have sex (2001
data).1
¦ Sexual experience also varies by
race/ethnicity: 69 percent of
African American, 53 percent of
Hispanic, and 41 percent of non-
Hispanic White male high school
students are sexually experienced.
For all three groups, boys are
more likely to have sex than girls
(2001 data).2
¦ Sexual activity increases with age:
41 percent of 9th grade boys are
sexually experienced, compared
to 61 percent of 12th grade boys
(Figure 1). The gap between
male and female students’ sexual
experience is greatest in the ninth
grade; by grade 12 the proportion
of male and female students
who have had sex is virtually the
same (2001 data).3
¦ Between 1991 and 2001, the
percentage of high school boys
who were sexually experienced
decreased by 16 percent.4
Frequency of Sexual
Activity
¦ There is a lot of variation in how
often teen boys have sex. For
example, in 1995 (the most
recent data available), among all
sexually experienced 15- to 19-
year-old males (not just those in
high school), 10 percent had not
The 850,000 teen girls who become pregnant each year don’t do so alone. Still, teen pregnancy is
usually seen as a “girls’ problem.” Happily, the past decade has brought increased attention to the
importance of directly involving boys and men in efforts to prevent teen pregnancy. This Science
Says brief provides information on teen boys’ sexual activity and contraceptive use, their attitudes toward
both, and advice for parents and program leaders.
FIGURE 1: Percentage of Male High School Students Who
Have Had Sex, by Grade, 2001
0%
20%
40%
60%
80%
100%
12th
Grade
11th
Grade
10th
Grade
9th
Grade
All Male
Students
49%
41% 42%
54%
61%
had sex at all in the previous year
and 42 percent had had sex fewer
than ten times in the previous
year. Still, for a significant percentage
of teen boys, sex is more
frequent — nearly a quarter (23
percent) reported having sex 50
or more times in the previous 12
months.5
Number of Partners
¦ High school boys are more likely
than girls to have had four or
more sexual partners (17 percent
vs. 11 percent). This pattern
holds true across grades and
racial/ethnic groups (2001 data).6
¦ Having several sexual partners
also varies by race/ethnicity: 13
percent of non-Hispanic White,
39 percent of African American,
and 21 percent of Hispanic male
high school students have had
four or more sexual partners
(Figure 2) (2001 data).7
¦ Not surprisingly, having multiple
sexual partners increases with
age: 14 percent of 9th grade boys
say they have had four or more
sexual partners, compared to 24
percent of 12th grade boys (2001
data).8
¦ Between 1991 and 2001, the
percentage of high school boys
reporting four or more sexual
partners decreased 26 percent;
among high school girls the
decline was 17 percent (2001
data).9
Attitudes Toward
Abstinence and Sexual
Activity
¦ Ninety percent of boys aged 12-
19 believe it is important for
teens to be given a strong message
from society that they
should not have sex until they are
at least out of high school. When
examined by age, 94 percent of
teen boys aged 12–14 and 87
percent of teen boys aged 15–19
believe it is important to send
such a message (2002 data).10
¦ Nearly equal percentages of teen
boys and girls aged 12–19 (81
percent vs. 84 percent)
believe that sex should
only occur in a longterm,
committed relationship
(2002 data).11
When examined by age,
88 percent of boys aged
12–14 and 77 percent of
boys aged 15–19 think
sex should only occur in
a long-term committed
relationship (2002
data).12
¦ Boys aged 12–19 are
more likely than girls
the same age to think
that it is embarrassing
for teens to admit
that they are virgins (24 percent
vs. 14 percent, 2001 data).13
Young boys (aged 12–14) are
slightly more likely than older
boys (aged 15–19) to think it is
embarrassing for teens to say they
are virgins (2002 data).14
¦ Among sexually experienced
youth aged 12–19, boys are less
likely than girls to wish they had
waited longer before having sex
for the first time (55 percent vs.
70 percent).15 However, young
boys (aged 12-14) are equally as
likely as girls the same age to
wish they had waited longer to
have sex (2002 data).16
¦ Nine out of ten (91 percent)
teens aged 15–17 say that girls
sometimes/often get bad reputations
because of having sex while
only 42 percent believe that boys
sometimes/often get bad reputations
by having sex (2002 data).17
¦ Boys aged 12–19 are slightly
more likely than girls the same
age to report feeling pressured to
have sex (82 percent vs. 79 percent).
Girls say romantic partners
exert the most pressure while
boys said pressure is most likely
to come from friends (2000
data).
¦ Among youth aged 12–17, boys
are less likely than girls to say
their decisions about sex are
influenced by what their parents
might think and what their parents
have said to them about sex;
what they’ve learned in sex education;
and what their religion
says about sex (2002 data).18
¦ Boys aged 12–17 are more likely
than girls to agree with the statement,
“sex is something that just
THE NATIONAL CAMPAIGN TO PREVENT TEEN PREGNANCY
www.teenpregnancy.org ¦ 202.478.8500 ¦ campaign@teenpregnancy.org
FIGURE 2: Percentage of Male High
School Students Who Have Had Four
or More Sexual Partners, by Race/
Ethnicity, 2001
0%
10%
20%
30%
40%
50%
Hispanic African-
American
Non-Hispanic
White
All Male
Students
17%
13%
39%
21%
happens (33 percent vs. 17 percent,
2000 data).”19
Contraception
Condom Use
¦ High school boys are more likely
than girls to report using a condom
the last time they had sex
(65 percent vs. 51 percent). This
pattern holds true across grades
and racial/ethnic groups (2001
data).20
¦ Condom use varies by race/
ethnicity: 64 percent of non-
Hispanic White, 73 percent of
African American, and 59 percent
of Hispanic male high
school students say they used a
condom the last time they had
sex (2001 data).21
¦ Only 44 percent of all 15- to
19-year-old males report using
a condom every time they had
sex in the previous year (Figure
3) (1995 data).22 Consistent
condom use also varied by
race/ethnicity: only 46 percent of
non-Hispanic White, 29 percent
of African American, and 47 percent
of Hispanic 15- to 19-yearold
males used condoms each
time they had sex in the previous
year (1995 data). Interestingly,
condom use at last sex is highest
among 10th grade boys (69 percent)
and lowest among 12th
grade boys (60 percent, 2001
data).23
¦ Between 1991 and 2001, the
percentage of male high school
students using a condom the last
time they had sex increased 19
percent. During the same time
period, the increase was 35 percent
for female high school
students.24
Attitudes Toward
Contraception
¦ In 1995, nearly one-third (31
percent) of boys aged 15–19 said
they would be embarrassed buying
condoms in a drugstore.
About one in five (22 percent)
thought that using a
condom would reduce
physical sensation or
that putting on a condom
in front of a partner
would be embarrassing
(19 percent).25
¦ When it comes to
couples and contraception,
adolescents
aged 12–17 agree
that girls influence
the decision to use
birth control pills or
condoms more than
boys (Figure 4)
(2000 data).26
Pregnancy and
Fatherhood
Pregnancy
¦ Overall, 14 percent of sexually
experienced males aged 15–19
reported that they have gotten a
partner pregnant. Causing a
pregnancy varies by racial/ethnic
group: 22 percent of African
American, 19 percent of
Hispanic, and 10 percent of
non-Hispanic White male teens
reported getting a girl pregnant
(1995 data).27
Fatherhood
¦ The teen birth rate for boys aged
15–19 was 18.5 per 1,000 in
2001. Between 1991 and 2001
the teen birth rate for boys in
this group decreased 25 percent.
THE NATIONAL CAMPAIGN TO PREVENT TEEN PREGNANCY
www.teenpregnancy.org ¦ 202.478.8500 ¦ campaign@teenpregnancy.org
FIGURE 3: Percentage of Males Aged
15-19 Who Used Condoms Every
Time They Had Sex in the Previous 12
Months, 1995
0%
10%
20%
30%
40%
50%
Hispanic African-
American
Non-Hispanic
White
All Male
Students
44% 46%
29%
47%
FIGURE 4:Who
Adolescents Aged 12-17
Think Has the Most
Influence Over Decisions
About Contraception
Within a Couple
0%
20%
40%
60%
80%
100%
Both equally Boy Girl
If condoms
are used
If birth control
pills are used
37% 35%
15%
47%
13%
2
49%
3
Readers should note that the
birth rate for male teens is much
lower than the birth rate for
female teens (45.3 per 1,000 in
2001) because many children
born to teen mothers are fathered
by men in their 20s or older.28
Attitudes Toward
Fatherhood
¦ Four out of ten boys aged 15–19
agree (at least a little) that “getting
a girl pregnant will make
you feel like a real man” (Figure
5) (1995 data).29
¦ Half (51 percent) of males aged
12–19 agree that teen boys often
receive the message that sex and
pregnancy are not a big deal
(2002 data).
¦ About half (51%) of boys (compared
to 41% of girls) agree with
the statement “I have never really
thought about what my life
would be like if I got pregnant/
got someone pregnant as a teen”
(2002 data).30
What it All Means
This research has several possible
implications for parents and professionals
who work with teens:
¦ A Special Note About Pressure.
The notion that only teen girls
feel pressure to have sex is an
antiquated and inaccurate one.
In fact, data cited above show,
boys may even feel slightly more
pressure to have sex than their
female peers. Boys report they
feel pressure to have sex for many
reasons: sexually aggressive girls,
the belief that “everyone is doing
it,” and to prove their “manhood,”
to name just a few. While
the sources of sexual pressure
may differ for girls and boys, the
pressure teen boys report is real
and requires careful attention
from the adults in their lives.
¦ Parents. Parents should be just as
concerned about the sexual activity
of their sons as they are about
the sexual activity of their daughters.
As the data presented here
make clear, teen boys often
receive a different message about
sex and pregnancy than teen
girls. Parents should be cautious
about perpetuating a doublestandard
of expectations for
sons and daughters — one that
clearly discourages sexual activity
among teen girls but too often
offers a “wink and a nod” to a
dolescent male sexual activity.
Parents — perhaps fathers, in
particular — are ideally suited
to talk with their sons about
responsible sexual behavior.
¦ Program Leaders. Rates of sexual
activity are higher for teen boys
than for teen girls. It is also true
that teen boys have had more
sexual partners than teen girls.
Consequently, program leaders
clearly need to focus their efforts
carefully on boys as well as girls.
As noted earlier in this research
brief, there are large disparities in
sexual behavior by race/ethnicity.
To help address these disparities,
programs should consider paying
particular attention to specific
changes in behavior, such as
increasing condom use among
Hispanic male teens or postponing
sexual activity and decreasing
the number of sexual partners
among African-American male
teens. Finally, some of the data in
this brief provide clues for the
types of messages teen pregnancy
prevention programs should provide,
such as discussion of the
“double standard,” gender differences
in the sources of pressure
to have sex, and embarrassment
about issues related to sexual
activity, such as obtaining
condoms.
Endnotes
1 Centers for Disease Control and
Prevention. (2002). Youth Risk
Behavior Surveillance — United
States, 2001. Morbidity and Mortality
Weekly Report, 51(SS-4).
2 Ibid.
3 Ibid.
4 Centers for Disease Control and
Prevention. (2002). Trends in sexual
risk behaviors among high school
students — United States, 1991-
2001. Morbidity and Mortality Weekly
Report, 51(38), 856-59.
THE NATIONAL CAMPAIGN TO PREVENT TEEN PREGNANCY
www.teenpregnancy.org ¦ 202.478.8500 ¦ campaign@teenpregnancy.org
FIGURE 5: Percentage of
15- to 19-Year-Old Males
Believing “Getting a Girl
Pregnant Will Make You
Feel Like a Real Man, 1995
Not at All
(60%)
A Lot
(5%)
Somewhat
(17%)
A Little
(18%)
5 Sonenstein, F.L., Stewart, K., Lindberg,
L.D., Pernas, M., & Williams,
S. (1997). Involving males in preventing
teen pregnancy: A guide for program
planners. Washington: The Urban
Institute.
6 Centers for Disease Control and
Prevention. (2002). Youth Risk
Behavior Surveillance — United
States, 2001. Morbidity and Mortality
Weekly Report, 51(SS-4).
7 Ibid.
8 Ibid.
9 Centers for Disease Control and
Prevention. (2002). Trends in sexual
risk behaviors among high school
students — United States, 1991-
2001. Morbidity and Mortality Weekly
Report, 51(38), 856-59.
10 Unpublished data from a 2002
National Campaign to Prevent Teen
Pregnancy nationally representative
survey of adults and teens.
11 The National Campaign to Prevent
Teen Pregnancy. (2002). With one
voice 2002: America’s adults and teens
sound off about teen pregnancy.
Washington: Author.
12 Unpublished data from a 2002
National Campaign to Prevent Teen
Pregnancy nationally representative
survey of adults and teens.
13 The National Campaign to Prevent
Teen Pregnancy. (2002). With one
voice 2002: America’s adults and teens
sound off about teen pregnancy.
Washington: Author.
14 Unpublished data from a 2002
National Campaign to Prevent Teen
Pregnancy nationally representative
survey of adults and teens.
15 The National Campaign to Prevent
Teen Pregnancy. (2002). With one
voice 2002: America’s adults and teens
sound off about teen pregnancy.
Washington: Author.
16 Unpublished data from a 2002
National Campaign to Prevent Teen
Pregnancy nationally representative
survey of adults and teens.
17 The Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation
& Seventeen. (2002). A series of
national surveys of teens about sex:
Gender roles. Menlo Park, CA: Author.
18 The Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation
& Seventeen. (2000). A series of
national surveys of teens about sex:
Decision making. Menlo Park, CA:
Author.
19 Ibid.
20 Centers for Disease Control and
Prevention. (2002). Youth Risk
Behavior Surveillance — United
States, 2001. Morbidity and Mortality
Weekly Report, 51(SS-4).
21 Ibid.
22 Sonenstein, F.L., Stewart, K.,
Lindberg, L.D., Pernas, M., &
Williams, S. (1997). Involving males
in preventing teen pregnancy: A guide
for program planners. Washington: The
Urban Institute.
23 Centers for Disease Control and
Prevention. (2002). Youth Risk
Behavior Surveillance — United
States, 2001. Morbidity and Mortality
Weekly Report, 51(SS-4).
24 Centers for Disease Control and
Prevention. (2002). Trends in sexual
risk behaviors among high school
students — United States, 1991-
2001. Morbidity and Mortality Weekly
Report, 51(38), 856-59
25 Sonenstein, F.L., Stewart, K.,
Lindberg, L.D., Pernas, M., &
Williams, S. (1997). Involving males
in preventing teen pregnancy: A guide
for program planners. Washington: The
Urban Institute.
26 The Henry J. Kaiser Family
Foundation & Seventeen. (2000). A
series of national surveys of teens about
sex: Safer sex, condoms, and “the pill.”
Menlo Park, CA: Author.
27 Op. cit. (see reference #5).
28 Hamilton, B.E., Sutton, P.D., &
Ventura. S.J. (2003). Revised birth
and fertility rates for the 1990s and
new rates for Hispanic populations,
2000 and 2001: United States.
National Vital Statistics Reports,
51(12). Landry, D.L. & Forrest, J.D.
(1995). How old are U.S. fathers?
Family Planning Perspectives, 27(4),
159-61+165.
29 Sonenstein, F.L., Stewart, K.,
Lindberg, L.D., Pernas, M., &
Williams, S. (1997). Involving males
in preventing teen pregnancy: A guide
for program planners. Washington: The
Urban Institute.
30 Unpublished data from a 2002
National Campaign to Prevent Teen
Pregnancy nationally representative
survey of adults and teens.
About Putting What Works
to Work
Putting What Works to Work
(PWWTW) is a project of the
National Campaign to Prevent Teen
Pregnancy funded, in part, by the
Centers for Disease Control and
Prevention.Through PWWTW, the
Campaign will translate research on
teen pregnancy prevention and related
issues into user-friendly materials
for practitioners, policymakers, and
advocates.As part of this initiative,
the Science Says series summarizes
recent research in short, easy-tounderstand
briefs.
For more information, please
visit www.teenpregnancy.org
THE NATIONAL CAMPAIGN TO PREVENT TEEN PREGNANCY
www.teenpregnancy.org ¦ 202.478.8500 ¦ campaign@teenpregnancy.org
Funding information
This research brief was supported by
Grant Number U88/CCU322139-01 from
the Centers for Disease Control and
Prevention (CDC). Its contents are solely
the responsibility of the authors and do
not necessarily represent the official views
of CDC.
About the National Campaign
The National Campaign to Prevent Teen
Pregnancy is a nonprofit, nonpartisan initiative
supported largely by private donations.
The Campaign’s mission is to improve the
well-being of children, youth, and families
by reducing teen pregnancy. Our goal is to
reduce the rate of teen pregnancy by onethird
between 1996 and 2005.
About the author
Christine Flanigan is the National
Campaign’s Research Program Manager.
Source information
Readers should note that much of the
information provided in this research brief
comes from two different sources: (1) The
Youth Risk Behavior Survey, a nationally
representative sample of adolescents in
high school, and (2) the National Survey of
Adolescent Males, a nationally representative
sample of never-married adolescent
males aged 15-19 from 1995. Additional
information is from several nationally representative
surveys of adolescents, including
several from the National Campaign and
several from the Henry J. Kaiser Family
Foundation.

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