A wide-ranging and embarrassingly detailed survey of Americans’ sexual practices turned up some surprises. Abstinence among young adults is significant and growing. More than twice as many women than men have homosexual attraction and behavior. And quite a few people with homosexual attraction have never had a same-sex experience.
Among the findings of a sweeping federal government survey of American sexual behavior is one that may surprise those bewailing a permissive and eros-soaked popular culture: More than one-quarter of people interviewed in their late teens and early 20s had never had sex.
The latest round of the quaintly named National Survey of Family Growth found that among 15-to-24-year-olds, 29 percent of females and 27 percent of males reported no sexual contact with another person ever – up from the 22 percent of both sexes when the survey was last conducted in 2002.
“The public’s general perception is that when it comes to young people and sex, the news is bad and likely to get worse,” said Bill Albert, chief program officer of the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy, an advocacy organization in Washington.
The seventh and latest round of the survey, first done in 1973, provides a corrective to that view.
“Many, many young people have been very receptive to the message of delaying sexual activity,” Albert said. “There’s no doubt about it.” He added that the nearly 40 percent reduction in teen pregnancy since the 1990s – which experts attribute to both increased condom use and increased abstinence – represents “extraordinary progress on a social issue that many once considered intractable.”
The uptick in abstinence is one of many revealing facts arising from structured interviews with a random sample of 13,495 Americans, ages 15 to 44, that were done from 2006 to 2008. The findings provide evidence for almost every theory and supposition about the nation’s secret sex life. . . .
Across the entire age span surveyed – 15 through 44 – 13 percent of women reported some “same-sex sexual behavior” in their lifetime, compared with 5 percent of men. For women, the fraction was up slightly from 2002, and for men, it was down slightly. . . .
There were small effects related to education. For example, 9 percent of women with bachelor’s degrees or higher reported same-sex encounters, compared with 15 percent of women who had not graduated from high school. On the other hand, 6 percent of male college graduates reported such encounters, compared with 3 percent of men who had not finished high school.
The survey also asked about sexual identity and orientation.
Among 18-to-44-year-olds who described themselves as heterosexual, 9 percent of women and 3 percent of men reported having same-sex encounters. On the other hand, 15 percent of women and 12 percent of men who described themselves as homosexual or bisexual had never had a same-sex experience.