Heads up: four of 10 U.S. high school students in 2018 reported having sex at least once in their lives. Your teenager may be aware of sexual activities occurring at their school and in the broader military community.
Military parents or guardians like you can maximize the chances of your teenager having happy and healthy relationships in high school and beyond by learning about the emotional and health problems that can arise from common unhealthy sexual behaviors, as well as what healthy teenage relationship behaviors are. By talking with your teen about these common situations, you make it easier for your child to speak up if they have questions or concerns.
Common teenage sexual behavior by the numbers
Prevent teenage dating violence.
Help your teenager or young adult avoid – or escape – abusive situations by identifying dating violence.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, or CDC, does annual surveys of U.S. high school students to report on teenager sexual and dating behaviors. Here are some of the trends from the most recent reports available.
- Many teenagers report having sexual intercourse. Overall, 41.2 percent of high school students in the 2018 CDC report said they participated in sexual intercourse at some point. It is reported that 24 percent of freshmen participate in sexual intercourse; compared to 58.1 percent of all seniors.
- Both male and female teenagers experience sexual activities at roughly equal rates. While males typically self-report more sexual experience than females in the same age groups, the percentage of teenagers having some sexual experience is roughly the same for both.
- Most teenagers try to avoid pregnancy – but half don’t use condoms. In a 2017 CDC survey of high school students, 14 percent did not use a method to avoid pregnancy. However, 46 percent of the teenagers who said they had had sex in the previous 30 days claimed they didn’t use a condom. Half of the 20 million annual new cases of sexually transmitted diseases tracked by the CDC come from young people between the ages of 15 and 24.
- Few teenagers report testing for sexually transmitted diseases. Less than 10 percent of all surveyed high school students have ever been tested for the human immunodeficiency virus, or HIV.
- Teenagers who identify as lesbian, gay or bisexual are at increased risk compared to their straight peers. This population of teenagers generally shows increased tendencies toward risk-taking sexual and relationship behaviors, including not wearing a condom during sexual activities.
- 7.4 percent of all high school students reported being physically forced to have sexual intercourse. Of these, self-reported victims were more likely to be female than male, as 11.3 percent of all female respondents reported this violence versus 3.5 percent of male respondents.
Power up your parenting – talk with your teen about respectful and healthy behavior
Without guidance from trusted adults like their parents or guardians, teenagers will be forced to turn to their friends and others for information about their bodies, romantic relationships and sexual behavior. In fact, 87 percent of teenagers said that it’d be easier for them to delay sexual activity and pregnancy if they could have open, honest conversations with their parents or guardians.
Through proactive and understanding conversation, you as their parent or guardian are in the best position to help your teenager cope with their rapidly changing bodies and relationships. Here are some ideas to get you started.
- Access trusted resources to give you the information you need to know. The CDC has excellent data on teenagers’ health and behavior for your own awareness. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services can also offer you more ideas for talking to your teenager about these important issues, including specific conversation starters.
- Practice what you want to say before you approach them, including the facts, figures and solutions to potential medical problems.
- Ask what they already know about a given subject, and then clarify as needed.
- Review the medical repercussions of sexual activities to prevent health problems before they possibly start.
- Help them empathize with another person in their lives – whether it’s a romantic crush or their best friend – to put themselves in another person’s shoes and build their empathy for others.
- Teach them about consent, including their right to say no to any unwanted activity – from a friend, partner or family member – without feeling guilt or shame and their responsibility to accept no to any unwanted activity with empathy and acceptance.
- Work with them to establish healthy moral standards, values and belief systems which will be personally meaningful to them.
Despite these precautions, some teenager relationships can involve physical or sexual abuse or assault. In these cases, your military family can always reach out your local installation’s Family Advocacy Program for professional help and guidance as part of its mission to prevent abuse within the military community. You can also contact Military OneSource by phone or online chat to be connected to resources that advise and assist with any military family situation. Reach out to the Department of Defense Safe Helpline anytime for anonymous and confidential support specifically designed for victims of sexual assault.
Through the Family Advocacy Program and other Department of Defense programs, you and your teenager can receive the care you need to make their next romantic encounters safe, healthy and fulfilling for everyone involved.