Peer-Group Pressure Ain’t What It Used to Be

Once teenagers have had sex, is there any stopping them? Surprisingly enough, a Kaiser Family Foundation study finds a majority of sexually initiated 15- to 17-year-olds are not “currently in a sexual relationship.” Specifically, 64 percent of sexually active boys in that age bracket said they’re not now in such a relationship, as did 53 percent of sexually active girls. A separate poll by the National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy found sex “is often sporadic among young adolescents.” Of the sexually experienced 14-year-olds surveyed in that study, about half “have had sex 0-2 times in the past 12 months.”

In analyzing its findings, the Kaiser report notes that young people “feel great pressure to have sex.” This study’s own data suggest a more mixed story, though. When asked in a general way whether there is “pressure to have sex by a certain age,” 22 percent of the 15-17s “strongly agreed” that there is, and another 37 percent “somewhat” agreed. But when queried about their own experience, nearly three-quarters of respondents reported feeling little or no pressure to have sex (see the chart). By way of comparison, more of these teens said they feel pressure to drink beer/alcohol (14 percent feel “a lot,” 24 percent “some”). Boys were significantly more likely than girls to say they feel a lot of pressure to have sex—and, for that matter, to drink, smoke and use drugs.

The pressure to have sex falls largely on those who’ve already had it. Thus, 17 percent of sexually active respondents said they feel a lot of pressure to have sex, vs. 5 percent of those who aren’t sexually active. Among the inactive, 28 percent feel “not much” pressure to have sex and 51 percent feel “none.”