Middle School Youth As Young As 12 Engaging In Risky
Middle school youth are engaging in sexual intercourse as early as age 12,
according to a study by researchers at The University of Texas School of Public
Results from this study are published in the April issue of
Journal of School Health.
Christine Markham, Ph.D., assistant
professor of behavioral science at the UT School of Public Health, and
colleagues examined sexual risk behaviors among middle school students in a
large southeastern U.S. urban public school district.
"This is one of the
few school-based studies conducted with this age group to look at specific
sexual practices in order to develop more effective prevention programs,"
Markham said. "This study shows that although most seventh graders are not
engaging in sexual risk behaviors, a small percentage are putting themselves at
In the study, Markham and colleagues defined sexual intercourse as
vaginal, oral or anal sex. According to their research, by age 12, 12 percent of
students had already engaged in vaginal sex, 7.9 percent in oral sex, 6.5
percent in anal sex and 4 percent in all three types of
Markham said, "These findings are alarming because youth who
start having sex before age 14 are much more likely to have multiple lifetime
sexual partners, use alcohol or drugs before sex and have unprotected sex, all
of which puts them at greater risk for getting a sexually transmitted disease
(STD) or becoming pregnant."
The study found one-third of sexually active
students reported engaging in vaginal or anal sex without a condom within the
past three months, and one-fourth had four or more partners. The more
experienced students in all three types of intercourse were more likely to be
male and African-American.
"We need to develop prevention programs that
address the needs of students who are not yet sexually active in order to
promote skills and attitudes to help them wait until they are older to have
sex," Markham said. "And we need to provide skills and knowledge related to
condoms and contraception for youth who are already sexually active."
study recommends that sexually active students also need to receive accurate and
factual information and services related to STDs and pregnancy testing, as well
as skills for future abstention and risk reduction for those who intend to
remain sexually active.
More than one-third of youth in the study
reported engaging in precoital touching behaviors. Among the students who
engaged in precoital behavior, 43 percent reported having engaged in sexual
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
(CDC), 80 percent of the 435,427 births to mothers ages 15 to 19 were the result
of unintended pregnancies. According to the National Vital Statistics Report,
birth rates among Hispanic and black teens remain higher than other
racial/ethnic groups, including rates among those ages 10 to 14.
youth between the ages of 15 and 24 accounted for 9.1 million or 48 percent of
all new STD cases, according to a report by the CDC. Minority youth also are
disproportionately affected. The CDC's 2006 STD Surveillance Report stated that
minority racial and ethnic populations had higher rates of STDs when compared to
whites and, although black teens represent only 17 percent of U.S. teenagers,
they account for 70 percent of HIV/AIDS cases reported among teens. "We need
more research to develop effective interventions, in particular for youth of
color living in underserved areas," Markham said.
"A common misperception
among adolescents is that oral or anal intercourse is not as risky for STD
transmission," said Markham. "But transmission of non-viral and viral STDs can
occur through all three types of intercourse when condoms are not
These findings clearly indicate the need for open discussion about
sexual health at the middle school level, Markham said. "It is critical that
health education teachers and school nurses feel comfortable addressing these
issues with their students and that their efforts are supported by parents and
the school administration," she added.
Source: University of Texas Health
Science Center at Houston
Dr. Anand Jhawar