Teenage sexual behaviour: attitudes towards and declared sexual activity

Br J Fam Plann. 1999 Jan;24(4):145-8.


Although the teenage pregnancy rates in the UK are falling in the 16 to 19 year old range, they are still rising in the 13 to 15 year olds. Overall, they remain one of the highest within Western Europe. Teenagers continue to present a challenge to the health services due to the increase in their sexual risk taking behaviour, the earlier age at which they are starting sexual activity and a reluctance to utilise services available to them. In an attempt to develop current services and make them more 'user friendly', a sexual health needs assessment was carried out on teenagers, part of which looked at their attitudes towards risk taking sexual behaviour and their declared sexual behaviour. A quantitative survey, using a questionnaire in schools, was answered by 1500 pupils aged between 13 and 18 years old, and showed that the majority of teenagers had declared some form of sexual contact with a partner with a degree of sexual activity increasing with age. Twenty per cent of 13 year olds reported that they had already had either full or oral sexual intercourse with a partner. Feeling peer pressure, not knowing the facts about sexual risk taking and a declared intent that would increase the likelihood of putting themselves or others at risk sexually were significantly more likely in the younger teenage boys surveyed. This study confirms that there remain many different factors involved in teenagers' decision-making processes, about their developing attitudes towards sex and their resultant behaviour. Despite a lack of maturity, such opinions and attitudes are bringing about definite views and sexual behaviour patterns in teenagers as young as 12 or 13 years old who are becoming fully sexually active. In particular teenage boys are becoming fully sexually active at a younger age than the girls and are taking risks in doing so. They are being influenced by peer pressure, condoning promiscuity and are declaring the intent to practice unsafe sexual intercourse. Their level of maturity would appear to be inadequate for them to comprehend the implications and consequences of their actions. This study has shown a need for developing adequate education and provision of sexual health services for teenagers, particularly for teenage boys, and that this may go some way in helping to address the imbalances found.

PIP: A needs assessment conducted by the Barking and Havering Health Authority (England) focused on the sexual attitudes and behaviors of British adolescents. 1500 young people 13-18 years old completed a questionnaire. 78% of respondents reported some form of sexual contact with a partner and 23% had experienced sexual intercourse. 38% of male respondents and 11% of females indicated that their peers pressured them to regard sex as the most important thing in a relationship. 10% of teens indicated they would be embarrassed to suggest condom use to a partner and 37% were concerned about appearing clumsy when using a condom. 23% of males and 9% of females claimed they would be willing to have sexual intercourse without use of a condom, despite awareness of the risks involved. Sexually active youth under 16 years old were significantly less likely to use condoms than their older counterparts. Although these findings suggest that teenage boys are at especially high risk of sexual promiscuity and non-use of contraception, service provision remains focused on teenage girls.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adolescent Behavior*
  • Female
  • Health Knowledge, Attitudes, Practice*
  • Humans
  • London
  • Male
  • Needs Assessment
  • Peer Group
  • Pregnancy
  • Pregnancy in Adolescence / statistics & numerical data
  • Psychology, Adolescent*
  • Risk-Taking
  • Sex Education
  • Sexual Behavior / psychology*
  • Students / psychology*
  • Surveys and Questionnaires