Young teens are far busier sexually than we might like to think

Canadian researchers say young teens are far busier sexually than might previously have been thought and much of that activity goes undetected because it is not specifically asked about.

In a study on early sexual intercourse based on data from the National Longitudinal Survey of Children and Youth, which looked at 3,212 youths aged 14 or 15 in 1998-2001, one of the most interesting revelations was that the teenagers' definition of sexual activity differed from the researchers one.

Paula Pynn of the Newfoundland and Labrador Sexual Health Centre in St. John's says that the centre defines sexual activity as any type of sexual contact including oral sex, anal sex and mutual masturbation, but young people think sex is about intercourse and not the other activities and that could put them at risk for infections. Pynn says there is sexual activity going on that falls beneath the radar because people don't ask specifically about it, and cautions that this is only a snapshot of what is going on.

According to Statistics Canada twelve per cent of boys and 13 per cent of girls have had sex by the ages of 14 or 15, and young adolescents in the eastern provinces and Quebec were more likely to have had sexual intercourse than those in Ontario and the western provinces.

The percentages of boys and girls who had intercourse by the age of 14 or 15 were almost the same, but the characteristics associated with sexual behaviour differed between the genders.

In girls the onset of puberty, weak self-esteem, having tried smoking or drinking and not being overweight were significantly associated with early sexual activity in girls.

But for boys, older age (that is being 15 as opposed to 14), a poor relationship with parents, low household income and having tried smoking were associated with early sexual activity.

In another recent study researchers examined sexual intercourse, condom use and sexually transmitted diseases among older teens and young adults using data from the 2003 Canadian Community Health Survey which included more than 18,000 youths aged 15-24 in 2003.

The study found of course that the likelihood of having sex rose as teens aged. At 15-17, 28 per cent of Canadians surveyed reported having sex. Sixty-five per cent of those aged 18-19 reported having sex and 80 per cent of 20- to 24-year-olds reported having intercourse.

Earlier sexual experience was related to having had more than one partner, and males were more likely to have had multiple partners than females.

Interestingly under four in 10 sexually active 15- to 24-year-olds didn't use a condom the last time they had sex. Those who reported having sex with only one person in the past year were less likely to report having used a condom. Four per cent of the 15- to 24-year-olds reported having been diagnosed with a sexually transmitted disease and twice as many females as males reported being diagnosed with an STD.

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