Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Sexual Activity Among Tennessee's Teenage Girls

The Nashville City Paper today published an article entitled, "Teen Sex Activity Rate Jumps." The article actually focuses specificially on teenage girls, as the information comes from preliminary data presented at a recent conference on pregnancy and infant health. Among the findings, comparing girls in grades 9-12 in 2004 compared to 2003 (quoted directly from the article):
  • "Sex in the last three months rose from 36 percent in 2003 to 41 percent in 2004;
  • Sex with more than four people rose from 12 percent to 15 percent;
  • Experienced date violence rose from 9 percent to 11 percent;
  • Been forced to have sex rose from 13 percent to 15 percent; and
  • Had sex under the age of 13 rose from 4 percent in 2003 to 13 percent in 2004
  • Condom use decreased from 48 percent in the last survey to 30 percent in 2004"

    Many readers may focus on the opening statement of the article: "Sexual activity among female teenagers grades 9-12 in Tennessee has jumped from 47 percent in 2003 to 55 percent in 2004. About 13 percent of girls under the age of 13 have been sexually active." Josh Tinley astutely points out that the article does not explain how "sexual activity" is defined for the purposes of this study. This document (PDF) from the CDC, the administrator of the Youth Risk Behavior Survey from which the data is gathered, provides the text of the 2005 questions. A reading of the survey reveals that sexual activity is described as "sexual intercourse," although a definition of that term is not provided for the survey participants.

    The results are certainly a cause for concern, if only because they seem to indicate that teen girls are having sex more, but using condoms less frequently. I am also troubled by the increase in "date violence" and girls having been forced to have sex. According to the Census Bureau's 2003 American Community Survey, there were 107,755 girls aged 15-17 enrolled in school in 2003. As a proxy for the number of TN girls in grades 9-12 in 2004, it's not perfect, because the age groups don't match up exactly and the population has likely changed. However, if you take 15% of that conservative 2003 figure, that's 16,163 girls who reported having been forced to have sex and 11,853 who reported date violence. In light of these findings, here is a list of sexual assault programs in Tennessee.

    The complete national report is expected in spring of 2006; the survey also addresses issues such as weapons, seat belt use, drugs and alcohol, and smoking.

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    MeSH Tags: Adolescent Behavior; Risk-Taking; Sexual Behavior/statistics and numerical data
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