Is Your Teen More Likely to Have Sex Sooner?

MP900284944Adolescence can be a time of curiosity about sex and a desire for adventure and risk. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, many young people engage in sexual activity and some of their behaviors are risky for their health. For example, among U.S. high school students surveyed in 2015:

  • 41% have already had sexual intercourse.
  • 30% have had sexual intercourse during the previous 3 months, and, of these:
    • 43% did not use a condom the last time they had sex.
    • 14% did not use any method to prevent pregnancy.
    • 21% had consumed alcohol or used drugs before having sexual intercourse.

Although many adolescents become sexually active during their teen years, most sexually active teens surveyed also say they wish they had waited longer to have sex. This suggests young people are having sex before they are truly prepared for its consequences.

For many parents, statistics like these encourage us to consider how to prevent our own teen from engaging in risky behaviors. A study conducted by the RAND Corporation may have one answer: pay attention to what your teens are watching on TV.

Researchers from RAND Health have discovered that teens who watch large amounts of television containing sexual content are twice as likely to begin engaging in sexual intercourse in the following year as their peers who watch little such TV. They are also more likely to initiate sexual activities other than intercourse, such as “making out” and oral sex.

Interestingly, it did not seem to matter whether the TV show portrayed sex scenes or just presented people talking about having sex. Discussing sex had just as much impact on a teen’s behavior. Studies show that about two-thirds of television entertainment programs contain sexual content, ranging from jokes and innuendo to intercourse and other behaviors.

“This is the strongest evidence yet that the sexual content of television programs encourages adolescents to initiate sexual intercourse and other sexual activities,” said Rebecca Collins, a RAND psychologist who headed the study. “The impact of television viewing is so large that even a moderate shift in the sexual content of adolescent TV watching could have a substantial effect on their sexual behavior.”

“Television habits predicted whether adolescents went to ‘second or third base,’ as well as whether they had sex for the first time,” Collins said. “The 12-year-olds who watched a lot of television with sexual content behaved like the 14- or 15-years-olds who watched the least amount of sexual television. The advancement in sexual behavior we saw among kids who watched a lot of sexual television was striking.”

The RAND study also identified factors that increased or decreased the likelihood that adolescents would initiate sexual intercourse.

Factors increasing adolescent initiation of sex:

  • being older (17-19 year olds are more likely than 13-14 year olds),
  • having older friends,
  • getting lower grades,
  • engaging in rule-breaking, and
  • having a strong desire to seek out adventure or risks.

Factors decreasing adolescent initiation of sex:

  • being religious,
  • having good mental health,
  • living with both parents,
  • having parents who monitored their activities, and
  • having parents with higher education.


The RAND researchers recommend that parents watch television with their children and talk about any sexual content that appears – even the jokes. If you would like more information about how to talk to your teen about sex, please visit our previous blog, What Every Teen Must Know About Sex.

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