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“Good girls don’t, but I do.”

CDC study finds sexual activity among Missouri teens rising

Eileen Yager, Communications Officer, Extension & Ag Information
University of Missouri,


In 1979, Missouri teenagers were dancing to the lyrics of “Good Girls Don’t” by The Knack. Twenty-five years later, those teens now have teen-agers of their own, and the lyrics still ring true.


According to a recent study by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 52 percent of Missouri teens in grades 9-12 and 68 percent of high school seniors reported being sexually active in 2003. The U.S. rate for high school students is 47 percent and 61 percent for seniors.


"The study reinforces the need to provide teens with factual information on human sexuality at an early age. That’s the one thing kids want information on,” said Tom Berger, a former human development specialist with the MU Extension Center for Adolescent Sexuality, Pregnancy and Prevention.

Every two years, the CDC administers the Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System survey to high school students throughout the United States. The study monitors health-risk behaviors, including sexual behaviors that contribute to sexually transmitted diseases and unintended pregnancies. The YRBSS also looks at tobacco, alcohol and drug use; diet and physical activity; and violence.

“The YRBSS is the best source of information about teens,” Berger said.

This year’s results, released in May, show that sexual activity among Missouri students in grades 9-12, is increasing, he said. In 2001, the number of students who reported having sexual intercourse was 50 percent.

Nationally, there was no change in the number of teens who report being sexually active.

The study showed an increase among females – 53 percent in 2003 compared with 47 percent in 2001. In both 2001 and 2003, the number of males who said they had sexual intercourse was 52 percent.

Berger has interviewed more than 1,200 Missouri adolescents and teens during the past four years. His research has found that white, rural females from two-parent households, who get good grades in school, are at the highest risk for sexual activity at an early age.

Kim Webb, extension associate, said, “These girls tend to go out with older guys,” who have money and cars. Berger said half of teen mothers report that the father is older than 20.

Lack of other recreational activities, as well as drinking alcohol or using drugs, contribute to the risk. “We know there is a link between sexual activity and alcohol or drug use,” Webb said.


“Kids who drink or use drugs are more likely to be in situations for high-risk behaviors to take place.”

Berger said that the earlier teens become sexually active the greater their risk of contracting sexually transmitted diseases, being victims of abuse and becoming pregnant.

In contrast, the risk factors decrease for teens who receive comprehensive sex education that includes teaching respect for oneself and others, responsibility and consequences.

“We need to encourage frank and honest discussion between teens and their parents,” Berger said. “All the research I am aware of says talking about it does not encourage teens to have sex.”

In fact, Berger said, teens who have had comprehensive sex education tend to delay their first sexual encounter, increase their use of contraceptives and, most importantly, talk more with their parents.

Webb said she recognizes that some parents may be uncomfortable talking about sexuality with their children, however, teens who turn to their peers often receive inaccurate information.

Parents, she said, should “spend their time on lessons that teach them to avoid high-risk situations.”

Berger said the information parents provide should be factual. “‘Just say no’ messages are fear-based,” he said. “Fear-based messages don’t work.”

Sources: Tom Berger; Kim Webb, (573) 884-0644




Last Updated 05/05/2009







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