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Most High-School Students Sexually Active, C.D.C. Finds

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More than half of all high-school students say they have had sex, according to the first federally funded national survey on the sexual behavior of 9th to 12th graders.

A majority of the sexually active students responding to the survey reported that they do not use a condom regularly, and 1 in 25 students said they have had a sexually transmitted disease.

Black students, the study conducted by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control found, were more likely than white or Hispanic students to have had sex, and boys were more likely than girls to have done so.

By the time they graduate from high school, nearly three-quarters of all students have had sexual intercourse, the report says.

Federal officials have long been interested in obtaining this sort of data, because about 1 million adolescent girls become pregnant each year, and 86 percent of all sexually transmitted diseases occur among people ages 15 to 29.

But gathering such information has long been a controversial undertaking. Last summer, a federal survey solely on the sexual behavior of teenagers was canceled by U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Louis W. Sullivan. (See Education Week, July 31, 1991 .) In canceling the survey, Dr. Sullivan said he was concerned that sexually explicit questions would unintentionally send the wrong message to adolescents.

Part of Broader Survey

The new study, in contrast, was part of the C.D.C.'s Youth Risk Behavior Survey, which asked a nationally representative sample of 11,631 students in grades 9 to 12 about a variety of health issues and risk behaviors.

Over the past few months, the C.D.C. has released the results of other parts of the survey concerning student drug use, suicide attempts, smoking, dieting, and exercise.

Questions were raised in some states about the propriety of asking students questions about their sexual activities. Nonetheless, the states and the C.D.C. were able to gather the information.

While the canceled survey would have asked students about both same-sex and opposite-sex behaviors, the C.D.C. survey focused only on heterosexual activities.

Older students were more likely to report that they were sexually experienced: 39.6 percent of 9th-grade students, but 71.9 percent of seniors, said they had intercourse.

Black students, the survey found, were far more likely than white or Hispanic students to have had sex. Nearly 88 percent of the black males, and 60 percent of the black females, said they had intercourse. In contrast, slightly more than half of all white students and Hispanic students said they had begun sexual activity.

Over all, 54.2 percent of the students reported having had sex, with 48 percent of the girls and 61 percent of the boys saying they were sexually experienced.

Nearly 40 percent of the students said they had intercourse during the three months prior to the survey. Girls were less likely than boys to be currently sexually active: 36.4 percent of girls reported having had sex recently, compared with 42.5 percent of the boys.

Use of Contraception

Roughly 78 percent of both male and female students who reported having had sex recently said they had used some form of birth control during their most recent sex act.

Hispanic students were the least likely to report using birth control, while white students were the most likely to say that they had.

However, fewer than half of the sexually active students said they had used a condom during their most recent sex act. Black students were the most likely to report using a condom, and Hispanic students the least likely.

To reduce the incidence of teenage sex and sexually transmitted diseases, the C.D.C. in its report recommends more stringent sex-education programs.

"Education programs should provide adolescents with the knowledge, attitudes, and skills they need to refrain from sexual intercourse," the report concludes. "For adolescents who are unwilling to refrain from sexual intercourse, programs should help to increase the use of contraceptives and condoms."

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