Campus: San Diego State University -- October 5, 2005

Landmark New Report on Teenage Sex in America Tracks Dramatic Changes over Last Five Decades

A landmark new report on teenage sex in America shows teenagers are not only having more sex at much younger ages, but becoming dramatically less prudish about it. And young women are leading the way in dismantling old taboos.

The report from researchers at San Diego State University analyzed 530 studies spanning five decades and involving more than a quarter of a million young people. The report appears in the most recent issue of the Review of General Psychology, a publication of the American Psychological Association.

"To my knowledge, it's the most comprehensive study of changes in sexual behaviors that's ever been done," said co-author Jean Twenge, a psychology professor at San Diego State.

Between 1943 and 1999, the report shows the age of first intercourse dropped from 19 to 15 for females (18 to 15 for males), and that the percentage of sexually active young women rose from 13 percent to 47 percent.

Feelings of sexual guilt plummeted, especially among young women. Attitudes toward premarital sex became dramatically more liberal over the same period. Approval of premarital sex increased from 40 percent to 79 percent among young men, according to the report, and from 12 percent to 73 percent among young women.

"The change in young women's beliefs about premarital sex was enormous," said Twenge, who co-authored the report with Brooke Wells, a former graduate student at San Diego State now at City University of New York.

"Cultural influence was so much stronger for women than men, and that was true across behaviors. The attitudes that parents have is also an influence," Twenge said about the report that tracked Baby Boomers, Generation X and the current generation of young people, whom Twenge calls Generation Me.

"Baby Boomers were having sex for the first time in college, but Generation Me started having sex in high school; there's been a major shift there," she said. On the flip side, in this age of AIDS, young people also are reporting fewer sexual partners. As the AIDS epidemic escalated, young people reported fewer numbers of sexual partners, according to the report.

Certain sexual behaviors are becoming more acceptable, too. "Oral sex has become so popular. In previous generations, oral sex was considered disgusting. Now young people see it as another way of being sexual," Twenge said. "It's also part of the general trend of sexual behavior moving away from marriage and reproduction and toward pleasure."

The percentage of teenagers and young adults having oral sex increased from 48 percent in 1969 to 72 percent in 1993 among young men, and from 42 percent in 1969 to 71 percent in 1993 among young women.

The new report, "Changes in Young People's Sexual Behavior and Attitudes, 1943-1999: A Cross-Temporal Meta-Analysis," began as a master's thesis by co-author Wells for Twenge that used a modern research technique called cross-temporal meta-analysis to examine historical changes by studying 530 reports involving 269,649 people.

Participants in the 530 studies ranged in age from 12 to 27 years. About half the samples represented people of diverse ethnic backgrounds, and there were nearly an equal number of samples from the East, West, Midwest and South. By region, 56 percent of young people in the East reported being sexually active, compared to 52 percent in the South, 49 percent in the West and 48 percent in the Midwest.

For more information, contact Jean Twenge directly at (858) 536-8734 or by cell phone at (619) 248-0763 and/or by email at jtwenge@sciences.sdsu.edu.

Media Contact: Renee Haines, Media Relations, (619) 594-4298 rhaines@mail.sdsu.edu


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