September 16, 2005
Nationwide Survey Includes Data on Teenage Sex Habits
By TAMAR LEWIN
The National Center for Health Statistics released the government's
most comprehensive survey of American sexual practices and
reproductive health yesterday, delving for the first time into such
sensitive areas as the prevalence of oral sex among teenagers and
same-sex activity among adults.
Oral sex among teenagers has in recent years become a topic of rampant
speculation and little solid data, apart from a 1995 Urban Institute
study of adolescent boys. The new statistics confirm that study's
findings that oral sex is very much part of the teenage sexual
repertory. According to the survey, more than half of all teenagers
aged 15 to 19 have engaged in oral sex - including nearly a quarter of
those who have never had intercourse.
Among the findings in the new study, "Sexual Behavior and Selected
Health Measures," were the following:
=B6Men age 30 to 44 have had a median of six to eight sexual partners in
their lifetimes; women's median was about four.
=B6Among both men and women age 15 to 44, about two-thirds have had only
one sexual partner in the last year. Ten percent of the men and 7
percent of the women have had three or more partners in that time.
=B6About 4 percent of men and women described themselves as homosexual
or bisexual, but in a finding that surprised the researchers, 14
percent of the women aged 18 to 29 reported at least one homosexual
experience, more than twice the proportion for young men.
The report offers new information about homosexuality in the United
States. Among adults ages 15 to 44, almost 3 percent of men and 4
percent of women reported having a sexual experience with a member of
the same sex within the past year, and over their lifetimes, 6 percent
of men and 11 percent of women had such experiences. About 1 percent
of men and 3 percent of women had had both male and female sexual
partners in the previous 12 months.
Nearly 6 percent of all men ages 15 to 44 reported having oral sex
with another man at some time in their lives, and nearly 4 percent
reported having anal sex with another man.
The data comes from the 2002 National Survey of Family Growth, a
survey of 12,571 men and women ages 15 to 44. The survey contractor
was the University of Michigan's Institute for Social Research, which
trained more than 200 women to collect the data by having the subject
answer sensitive questions on a computer, without revealing the
answers to the interviewer.
Although the National Center for Health Statistics has periodically
conducted that survey among women for 32 years, the 2002 version was
the first to include both sexes, and to move beyond fertility and
child-bearing into broader questions of sexual behavior and sexual
The new findings on teenagers and oral sex have been of special
interest to health experts.
"After years of provocative headlines and breathless stories based
mostly on anecdote, we finally have some solid data," said Sarah
Brown, director of the National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy.
"The news is probably not as bad as adults might have been led to
believe, but it is likely not as good as most parents might wish."
The proportion of teenagers who have given or received oral sex was
slightly higher than the proportion who have had intercourse, the
survey found, with 55 percent of the boys and 54 percent of the girls
having given or received oral sex, while 49 percent of the boys and 53
percent of the girls have had intercourse.
"One thing that surprised me is that we expected, based on anecdotal
evidence, that girls might be more likely to give oral sex and boys
more likely to receive it, but we didn't find that at all," said Dr.
Jennifer Manlove, of Child Trends, which, like Ms. Brown's group,
released an analysis of the data, "There's more gender equality than
The government data does not provide any indication of the age at
which oral sex first occurred, how often it occurred, or how many
partners a teen had had. But the survey found that nearly all
teenagers who have had sexual intercourse have also had oral sex: 88
percent of the boys and 83 percent of the girls.
"A very significant proportion of teens has had experience with oral
sex, even if they haven't had sexual intercourse and may think of
themselves as virgins," Dr. Manlove said. "We're not sure whether
these teens who have not had sexual intercourse are engaging in oral
sex because they view it as a way to maintain their technical
virginity or even because they regard it as an easy method of birth
While many of the findings in the government report parallel those of
the last large-scale study of American sexual behavior, a 1992 study
of 18- to 59-year-olds by the University of Chicago's National Opinion
Research Center, the lead author of the new study said it found a new
and unexpected increase in lesbian activity among young women. It may
not be such a surprise among those of college age, who speak of LUG's
- lesbians until graduation.
"There are signs of change among 15- to 29-year-old women, a group of
women too young to have been be included in the 1992 study," said
William Mosher, the lead author.
When asked, "Have you ever had any sexual experience of any kind with
any female?" 14 percent of the 18- to 29-year-old women said yes,
compared with slightly under 10 percent of the 30- to 44-year-olds.
That difference was surprising, Dr. Mosher said, since on questions
about lifetime experience, older people usually report more than
The study also asked about sexual attraction. Among men 18 to 44, 90
percent said they thought of themselves as heterosexual, 2 percent as
homosexual, 2 percent as bisexual and 4 percent as "something else,"
findings similar to those in 1992.
Among women, 86 percent said they were attracted to only men and 10
percent "mostly to males." In the 1992 survey, only 3 percent said
they were "mostly" attracted to males.