When teenagers report not being sexually active, their elders are tempted to say it’s not for lack of trying. However, some fresh evidence suggests significant numbers of teens have made a deliberate decision to wait. For one thing, the proportion of high school students who’ve had sex fell from 54.1 percent in 1991 to 45.6 percent last year, according to a new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (If a consumer brand were losing so much share among teens, its ad account would be in review.) Just as telling, the number of students reporting “multiple sex partners” (i.e., four or more) declined from 18.7 percent to 14.2 percent during the same period. Now, a Time/MTV survey of 13-18-year-olds finds 56 percent of them saying they want to abstain from sex until they marry. An accompanying article in the magazine says the “abstinence movement” is gaining new adherents, among health professionals and teenagers alike. While adults may believe most kids feel pressed by peers and pop culture to join the sexually initiated ranks, the survey found three of four teenagers reporting “they do not feel overwhelming pressure” to do so. In fact, “seven out of 10 feel being a virgin isn’t a big deal” and “only 8 percent feel it would be embarrassing.” For the many high schoolers who express these opinions, advertising that treats sex as the absolute sina qua non of teenage life may start to look clueless rather than hip.
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