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New CDC Data on American Youth and Adult Sexual Behaviors

On September 15, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS) released the most comprehensive study of American sexual behavior in the last decade.1 This study presents the findings of the 2002 National Survey of Family Growth (NSFG) related to sexual behavior. The study, focused on men and women ages 15-44, found evidence of a diverse range of sexual behaviors among both youth and adults.

The CDC report provides much needed data about the sexual behavior of adult men and women. Some highlights of the report include:

  • Among adults ages 25 to 44,
    • 97% of men and 98% of women have had vaginal intercourse,
    • 90% of men and 88% of women have had oral sex with an opposite-sex partner,
    • 40% of men and 35% of women have had anal sex with an opposite-sex partner,
    • 6.5% of men ages 25-44 have had oral or anal sex with another man,
    • 11% of women ages 25-44 have had a sexual experience with another woman.2

The questions about same sex sexual experiences were asked differently to women and men – men were asked about specific acts such as oral or anal sex, whereas women were asked about “sexual experiences.” This may have resulted in the higher numbers for women. A different question revealed that 8% of men and women ages 18-44 identify as something other than heterosexual.3

The report was complemented by a separate analysis of the same NSFG data specifically focusing on the frequency of oral sex among young people ages 15-19, released by Child Trends, a non-profit research center. Child Trends found that 55% of males and 54% of females ages 15-19 reported engaging in oral sex.4 Among unmarried young men ages 15-19 who have never had sexual intercourse, the rate of oral sex increased from 15% in 1995 to 21% in 2002.5 Because this increase was present specifically among unmarried young men in the 15-19 age group who had not engaged in intercourse, it suggests that more young people may be using oral sex as a substitute behavior in order to remain “virgins.”6 This behavior has also been found to be highly correlated with young people who pledge virginity in abstinence-only-until-marriage programs. A 2001 report by Harvard and Yale researchers found that for young people who have not had vaginal sex, males and females who pledge virginity are six times more likely to have engaged in oral sex than their non-pledging counterparts.7

“This report confirms what we have known for years, American’s sexual lives are more diverse than commonly believed. The NSFG data show that a wide range of sexual behaviors with both opposite and same sex partners occur across gender, age, race and ethnicity, and geographic location,” said Monica Rodriguez, vice president for education and training at SIECUS. “Our sexuality education and systems of care should reflect with this reality,” concluded Rodriguez.

Much of the data collected in the NSFG is based on in-person, face-to-face interviews with a random sample of 12,571 people conducted during 2002. To increase privacy, and thus responsiveness from participants, many of the questions about sexual behaviors were posed through a specially designed computer program.8

To view the reports, go to:



  1. William D. Mosher, et al, Sexual Behavior and Selected Health Measures: Men and Women 15-44 Years of Age, United States , 2002 (Atlanta : Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Health Statistics, 2005), accessed 21 September 2005 , < >.
  2. Ibid.
  3. Ibid.
  4. Oral Sex ( Washington , DC : Child Trends, 2005), accessed 22 September 2005, < >.
  5. Ibid.
  6. Laura Session Step, “Study: Half of All Teens Have Had Oral Sex,” Washington Post , 16 September 2005 , A07.
  7. Peter Bearman and Hanah Brückner, “Promising the Future: Virginity Pledges and the Transition to First Intercourse,” American Journal of Sociology 106.4 (2001): 859-912.
  8. Ibid.