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What Percentage of Teens Are Having Sex in High School?

Parents have a tendency to overestimate how much sex teenagers are having, but the reality is concerning for different reasons.

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Parents have always worried about teens having sex in high school, but this concern has been inflated since the rise of risqué comedies in the 1980s and 1990s, which glamorized the loss of virginity and high school sex. Movies like Fast Times at Ridgemont High and American Pie still scare the living daylights out of prudish parents today, and newer movies, such as Blockers, have only made matters worse. But concerns about virginity and high school sex are not necessarily backed by the data, and not every adolescent is in a pact to lose their v-card before college. In fact, the average that people lose their virginity in the U.S. is higher than you may think.

The reality is that only about half of teenagers have sex for the first time before high school graduation, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and that figure hasn’t changed for more than a decade. While the data may quell some concerns, it raises new ones for parents as well. For example, despite having equal rates of consensual sex, LGBTQ teenagers are nearly twice as at risk of sexual assault.

It’s important for parents to treat sex and everything surrounding it, including consent, protection, and self-respect, as a regular discussion, not a one-time talk. Here’s what moms and dads need to know about the data on high school sex and their teens.

Roughly 40 Percent of Teens Don’t Have High School Sex

The percent of virgins in high school is a trend that has remained pretty consistent since 2005, CDC data suggests. Only about one in four 9th-graders report that they have ever had sex. That figure climbs steadily throughout high school, culminating in the 12th grade when about 60 percent claim to have had sex. If nothing else, this data debunks the myth that high schoolers are all sexually active — nearly half are still virgins by graduation! It is important for parents to convey this information to their children, to help combat the pressure they may feel to have sex before they are emotionally ready.

chart showing that most high schoolers have sex before graduating

LGB Teens Are Having About as Much High School Sex as Everyone Else

The CDC only started keeping tabs on the sex lives of gay, lesbian, and bisexual teens in 2015, so data showing how this demographic’s sexual activity rates have changed over the past 10 years are not available. But we do have the next best thing: a side-by-side comparison of the percentage of heterosexual and homosexual teens who report having had sex at least once. Although studies have shown that LGBTQ teens are more likely to engage in risky sexual behavior, the CDC data suggest that queer high schoolers aren’t having significantly more sex.

chart showing that gay teens are only slightly sexually active

Yet Queer Teens Are at Double the Risk of Sexual Assault

It is telling that, despite roughly equal rates of consensual sex, lesbian, gay, and bisexual teens are at significantly higher risk of sexual assault — defined here as the percent of high school students who report being forced to have sex at least once. The data highlights the importance of educators and psychologists devising specific interventions for sexual minority teens.

chart showing that LGBTQ teens are at greater risk of sexual assault

The Average of Losing Virginity in the U.S.

The average age that women and girls in the U.S. first have vaginal penetrative sex is about 17 years old, according to the CDC. For men and boys in the U.S., the average age of losing their virginity is also 17 years old. The age at which individuals have sex for the first time is at least partially genetic, according to a large new study.

The Myth of Teens Having High School Sex (And Lots of It)

The idea of the increasingly sexually active high-schooler is, it seems, more fiction than fact. Some 40 percent of high schoolers forgo sex completely during high school, a number that has stayed this way for more than a decade. This changes only incrementally when you look at LGBTQ teens.

Curious about your kid’s case? The best way to find out is to talk to them about it.