Levels of sexual activity among adolescent males in the United States

Fam Plann Perspect. Jul-Aug 1991;23(4):162-7.


Although three-fifths of adolescent males aged 15-19 say they have had sexual intercourse, analyses of data from the 1988 National Survey of Adolescent Males indicate that their level of sexual activity is relatively moderate. The data show that among sexually experienced young men the mean number of partners in the last 12 months is 1.9, and the mean frequency of intercourse in the last four weeks is 2.7 times. Black males have had more partners than white or Hispanic males; however, after the number of years since first intercourse are controlled for, these differences disappear. On average, sexually experienced youth spent six out of the last 12 months with no sexual partner, and only 21 percent of sexually active males had more than one partner in any month in the last year. Comparisons with 1979 data suggest that proportionately more adolescents were sexually experienced in 1988, but fewer non-black males had first intercourse before their 15th birthday. The number of partners since first intercourse and in the past four weeks appears to have decreased, as has the frequency of intercourse in the last four weeks.

PIP: Researchers used data on 1880 never married males aged 15-19 years living in the United States collected during the 1988 National Survey of Adolescent Males (NSAM) to gauge heterosexual activity by the number of partners and the frequency of coitus and, when possible, to compare these data with data collected during the 1979 National Survey of Young Men. In 1988, 60% had sexual intercourse at least once, but most of them did not have any partners for 5.87 months and only 21% had 1 relationship at the same time during the last 12 months. 19.8% of young Black males said they had had sexual intercourse by age 13 compared to 2.9 of White males and 3.9 of Hispanic males (p.001). Indeed the cumulative proportion of Black teenagers who had 1st intercourse continued to be significantly greater than those of White and Hispanic teenagers (p.001 for 13-18 years; p.05 for 19 years). Overall male adolescents had an average of 5.11 lifetime sexual partners. The 17-19 year olds in 1988 (6) had significantly fewer lifetime partners than those in 1979 (7.34; p.001). Further, the number fell between 1979-1988 in each age group, but the decrease was only significant for 19 year olds (p.05). The number of partners actually rose for Blacks (9.34-9.99), but fell greatly for Nonblacks (6.87-5.02; p.01). In 1988, Blacks had a mean of 8.3 partners compared to 4.3 for Whites and 5.2 for Hispanics (p.001). The mean number of sexual partners in the last year was significantly greater for Blacks (2.37) than Whites (1.85) and Hispanics (1.57; p.001). The number of partners in the last 4 weeks fell significantly between 1979-1988 (.96 vs. .72; p.05). This decline was essentially due to the substantial drop in partners for Blacks (1.32 vs. .86; p.01). These results indicated that overall the rate of sexual activity is declining and that serial monogamy is the norm for male teenagers who have had 1 partner in the last year.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adolescent Behavior*
  • African Americans
  • Age Factors
  • European Continental Ancestry Group
  • Hispanic Americans
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Multivariate Analysis
  • Sexual Behavior / ethnology
  • Sexual Behavior / statistics & numerical data*
  • Sexual Partners
  • United States