Researchers report that while most middle-schoolers are not having sex, a small percentage of kids as young as age 12 are engaging in risky sexual behaviors.
Studying sexual risk among middle school students in a large southeastern U.S. urban public school district, the researchers found that by age 12, 12% of the students had engaged in vaginal sex, 7.9% in oral sex, and 6.5% in anal sex.
Among students who'd had sexual experiences:
- about two thirds were currently sexually active and 25% reported four or more partners
- 6% had engaged in one type of sexual intercourse, 4% in two types, and 4% in all three types (vaginal, oral, anal)
- vaginal sex usually started at an earlier age or at the same age as other types of intercourse
- only 2% had had oral sex without also engaging in vaginal sex
- a third of sexually active students reported having vaginal or anal sex without a condom within the past 3 months
Though just a small percentage of these young adolescents report being sexually experienced, the findings underscore the importance of talking to kids about abstinence, the importance of waiting until they're older to have sex, and — for those who are sexually active — using condoms to protect against sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and contraception to prevent pregnancy.
What This Means to You
Talking to your kids about sex can be daunting. But discussing issues like abstinence, infections, and birth control can help lower teens' risk of unintended pregnancy or contracting an STI.
Parents should begin the sex education process long before it starts in school. The introduction of formal sex education in the classroom varies; many schools start it in the fifth or sixth grade. Some of the topics addressed in sex-ed class may include anatomy, contraception, STIs, and pregnancy.
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) has said that sex education that includes information about abstinence and birth control is the most effective way to keep down the rate of teen pregnancy.
It's important that your kids feel, from a young age, that they can come to you with a question about sexuality, no matter what it is. It helps if you treat sexuality as a natural part of development, not something dirty or embarrassing.
Providing the facts is vital, but it's also wise to give your kids a sense of where you stand. Teens, especially, may seem uninterested in your views on sex and birth control, or even your values in general, but they usually take in more than you think.
If you don't know how to begin a dialog about the birds and the bees with your kids, ask your doctor for some ideas and recommended sources of reliable information. If you feel you can't talk to your kids about it, it's important to be sure that they have another trusted adult — like a teacher, school counselor, school nurse, or doctor — to talk with about birth control and other issues related to sex.
Reviewed by: Steven Dowshen, MD
Date reviewed: April 2009
Source: "Patterns of Vaginal, Oral, and Anal Sexual Intercourse in an Urban Seventh-Grade Population." Journal of School Health, April 2009.