The Increase of Teenage Abstinence

One of the false but pervasive ideas that is often spread in our society by popular media is the idea that some harmful behaviors cannot be avoided, so we might as well do them. Often people have the same ideas about sexual activity. Some adults push for education that doesn’t endorse abstinence because they assume that most teenagers won’t be able to avoid it.

Valerie Huber, the president of Ascend (formerly called the Abstinence Education Association) explained how many people simply assume that most teenagers have sex. She reports how one blogger at Yale University’s School of Public Health casually declared, “Teens have sex. Deal with it.”

But surprisingly teens are less likely to have sex than they were 25 years ago. The 2015 Centers for Disease Control research update shows that 6 in 10 of teenagers have never had sex.  That shows an increase of 28% since 1991.  

The CDC study found in their 2010 study that, “the most common reason for not yet having [had sex] was that it was ‘against religion or morals,’’ which was also the most common reason in 2002. The second and third most common reasons for females were ‘‘don’t want to get pregnant’’ and ‘‘haven’t found the right person yet’.’’

The trends in teen sexual activity are important for teenagers and adults to know. Abstinence from sex before marriage is proven by research to be the path that is most likely to avoid the pitfalls of poverty, sexual diseases, emotional struggles that accompany sex without commitment, and single parenthood. Teenagers who choose to wait to have sex until marriage create a chance for a brighter future for themselves- and potentially their future children. (Wang & Wilcox).

Teenagers need to know that abstinence is possible. In a society, saturated with the message that cheap, casual sex is the norm, teens need support from peers who share their values.

Huber expresses in her article that this information is evidence of the success of the Sexual Risk Avoidance educational approach.  This approach is growing in popularity and has shown positive results for participants. This program focuses on risk avoidance and life planning with education about sex. The program sends the message that abstinence is the only sure way to eliminate all possible risks from early sexual behavior. It differs from the typical Sexual Risk Reduction of “Comprehensive” programs. The comprehensive programs do not encourage teens to avoid sex, but to reduce risks.

The American College of Pediatricians recognizes the health benefits of sexual risk avoidance (SRA – formerly known as ‘abstinence’) as the optimal lifestyle for all youth.

For practical strategies for teens to commit to abstinence and for parents to promote abstinence in the home, please view the following ACPeds patient information handouts:

For more information on SRA , please visit the ACPeds webpage Sexual Risk Avoidance (Abstinence) Education where you can find the following resources and more:


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Huber, V. (Jun. 16, 2016). Number of teenagers having sex has dramatically declined. Retrieved from:

Wang, W. & Wilcox, B., The Millennial success sequence: Marriage, kids, and the ‘success sequence’ among young adults. Retrieved from:

Image with the ring above taken from:

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