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Word has it that eighth-graders are having sex. Or maybe you’ve heard about kids dodging into bushes for hanky-panky on the walk home.

In a culture saturated with sex, today’s young adolescents are freely passing along whatever gossip they hear. Their tales of purported trysts are echoed at PTA meetings, on the bleachers and in the supermarket aisles, as alarmed parents grill each other for details.

But hold on: According to several well-respected national surveys, the chatter apparently far surpasses action among young adolescents.

Although experts agree that younger teens are far more knowledgeable about sex than previous generations, the studies find that middle-school kids are actually waiting longer to become sexually active than they did just seven years earlier.

The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)reported that in 2002, 13 percent of girls had had sex by the time they turned 15, down from 19 percent in 1995. The drop for boys was similar, from 21 percent to 15 percent. Rates for black teens, which had been two to 3.5 times higher than for whites, fell even more dramatically.

Sandy Pickert, an educator with Abstinence Education Inc. in Wichita, says recent sessions with middle- and high-school students reveal that sexual activity “does seem to be going down.

“Kids are much more open to abstinence and much more articulate about why they’re choosing abstinence,” Pickert said. “The same way they’re making a decision not to smoke, they’re really thinking about the consequences (of sexual activity) and making better choices.”

Although skeptics might question teens’ truthfulness in reporting their own sex lives, the trend’s consistency across multiple surveys suggests the data are reliable…

Case of crying ‘wolf’?
Public alarm about teen sexual behavior is not new, of course. A sharply rising teen pregnancy rate fed concern in the 1980s. And although the 1990s saw a drop in sexual activity among older teens, studies then found the proportion of sexually active girls under age 15 was soaring.

When President Clinton’s Oval Office escapades moved [outercourse] into the public vernacular, the media were off and running.

Headlines declared middle school [outercourse] an alarming new fad. Journalists casually passed on unsubstantiated rumors about sexual encounters in study halls and in a Midwestern middle school math class. They obsessed about supposed [outercourse] parties. In a May 2002 broadcast, Oprah decried the “[outercourse] epidemic” among kids as young as 12.

The dire warnings, however, seem undermined by facts. For starters, kids are telling researchers they’re delaying sexual activity. More easily measured is the teen pregnancy rate, which fell steadily through the 1990s, particularly among those 14 and younger. Their rate dropped a whopping 40 percent from 1990 to 1999…

“Being a virgin is not a bad idea anymore,” said Lois Theis, president of [an abstinence group in Wichita]…

“There’s still a lot of awful stuff that parents need to be aware of,” Theis said. “But there are many kids out there making good decisions, and they need to be acknowledged for that

*This article was shortened from its original length. [The Record, 05/12/05; Abstinence Clearinghouse, 12May05]