Teen Sexual Activity

Teen Sexual Activity

Data highlight

High school girls in Oklahoma report the eighth highest rate of current sexual activity among 43 reporting states. This figure is supported by Oklahoma’s high rate of high school girls who have ever had sex. Teen girls in New York reported the lowest current sexual activity with 12.1%, while West Virginia reported the highest at 35.1%.


The percent of female high school students (grades 9th-12th) who reported to be currently sexually active when surveyed in 2021

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Teen sexual activity refers to the engagement of adolescents in intimate behaviors, including but not limited to sexual intercourse. 

The main datapoint we show here is taken from a biannual survey by the Center for Disease Control that relies on self-reported information. Sexual activity is defined as intercourse with at least one person during the 3 months before the survey. 

Current teen sexual activity does not fully reflect whether or not a teen has had sex. Actions that constitute “sexual intercourse” were not defined by the survey.

Why we care

The percentage of high school girls considered sexually active has declined nationwide for the last decade. Oklahoma has continued to report above the national average in that time, but the rates are still declining

Experts are unsure what initiated the trend and why it has sustained for so long. Despite the timing of events, the widespread implementation of abstinence-only and fear-promoting programs has been widely debunked and shown to be ineffective

The internet may deserve some credit for a reduction in several high-risk behaviors among teens, simply because they are far more engaged in virtual life than former generations. Most teens have at least one social media account, with 71% reporting use of at least two regularly, and this social shift is linked to postponing sexual activity

The flip side of this benefit is that teens are also influenced by unrealistic representations of sex found on the internet, often distorting their understanding of what real human sexual relationships entail. While delayed sexual activity is associated with positive health outcomes in general, misinformation found online about sex could be harmful to teens if not countered by comprehensive sex education.


The Youth Risk Behavior Survey (YRBS) is released every two years by the Center for Disease Control (CDC). It is considered the gold standard for adolescent data. 

The most recent report was released in 2021 with some data collected during the COVID-19 pandemic. Per CDC’s stated acknowledgment, the pandemic likely affected the reporting. Spotty stay-at-home orders nationwide meant many teens could not visit friends in and out of school. 

Although Oklahoma did not declare a statewide order, individual school districts, cities, and social spaces did close their doors. Metrics that require some level of person-to-person contact drastically and abnormally dropped, some to historic lows. However, the drops observed closely match the scope of a state’s stay-at-home order. 

CDC and other experts in the field have hinted that many of the results of the 2021 survey are outliers. While still valuable information, they are likely not indicators of widespread changes in teen behavior. Those same experts further warn that the 2023 results will also be abnormal but in the opposite direction. With the return of social settings, behavior amongst teens may overcorrect and cause metrics to spike. If the trends were to return to pre-pandemic levels, it may not be seen until 2025. However, CDC’s current information is still considered the gold standard, even with the needed context.

What we can do:

This issue brief was written by Metriarch staff as part of our Data Lookbook.

Suggested citation
 Metriarch. “Adolescent Health,” Data Lookbook (2024). URL: metriarchok.org/teen-sexual-activity.

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