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Sexual activity rates "miniscule" for young adolescents

Sexual activity is very rare for young pre-teens, contrary to what the public may think.

A new study published online on April 1 in Pediatrics reveals that only 0.6 percent of 10-year-olds, 1.1 percent of 11-year-olds and 2.4 percent of 12-year-olds have had sex.

The rates have stayed similar for decades. Over the last 50 years, no more than 10 percent of girls have had sex by the age of 14.

"Policymakers and the media often sensationalize teen sexual behavior, suggesting that adolescents as young as 10 or 11 are increasingly sexually active," lead author Lawrence Finer, director of domestic research for the Guttmacher Institute, said in a press release. "But the data just don't support that concern. Rather, we are seeing teens waiting longer to have sex, using contraceptives more frequently when they start having sex, and being less likely to become pregnant than their peers of past decades."

The number increases to 33 percent by the time youth reach 16, and 48 percent by the age of 17. Sixty-one percent and 71 percent of 18 and 19-year-olds respectively have had sex.

Researchers gathered data from the 2006 to 2010 National Survey of Family Growth, which surveyed American youth between the ages of 10 and 19.

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Sadly, 62 percent of teens who admitted to having sex at the age of 10 said the encounter was coerced. Fifty percent of those whose first encounter was at 11 said the same. The researchers noted that these worrying statistics warranted further investigation.

For comparison, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention reported that in 2011 only 47.4 percent of high school students had sexual intercourse, and 15.3 percent had sex with four or more people. About 39.8 percent of the teens who had sex three months before being surveyed -- a total of 33.7 percent -- said they did not use a condom, and 76.7 percent said they did not use birth control pills or Depo-Provera to prevent pregnancy.

Contraceptive use is also prevalent. More than 80 percent of 16-year-olds said they used some kind of contraceptive the firs time they had sex. One year after, 95 percent of those same teens said they had used contraceptives. The percentage of girls who initiated using a method of protection was the same at age 15 as it was for older teens.

But, teens who started having sex younger than 14 were less likely to use contraceptives the first time and took longer to begin using any protection.

"(Teens need) the information they need and the services they need to protect themselves, if and when they become sexually active, that obviously is a very important public health goal," Finer told USA Today.