What Is The Right Age to Have Sex?

Young women and teen girls trying to figure out the right age to have sex frequently want to know the answer to a related question: "When do most teens have sex?" When they see other teens having sex on TV and in films—and read about it in magazines and books—many get the wrong idea that everyone else is having sex except for them.

It's an exaggerated image that's fed by depictions of sexually active teens in films like "Ladybird" and TV shows like "Mom," "The United States of Tara," "Riverdale," and "13 Reasons Why." The regular presence of pregnant teens in the media spotlight makes it seem as if most teens between ages 15 and 19 are having sex—and that this activity is commonplace.

The truth? The majority of teens ages 15 to 19 are not having sex. In fact, only 46% of teens in this age group in the U.S. have had sex at least once. Worried parents and anxious teens can calm their anxiety by understanding that the media's obsession with teen sex is more a result of hype than a reflection of reality.

Statistics on Sexually Active Teens

Unlike some of the characters of "Riverdale," who are having sex at 15, real-life teens who are actually sexually active tend to be older. The Guttmacher Institute's September 2017 report titled "Adolescent Sexual and Reproductive Health in the United States" debunks this and other myths about teen's sexual behavior.

According to the Guttmacher study, "On average, young people in the United States have sex for the first time at about age 17." And this is part of a trend: In recent years, teens are waiting longer and longer to have sex. "In 2011–2013, about 13% of never-married females aged 15–19 and 18% of never-married males in that age group had had sex before age 15, compared with 19% and 21%, respectively, in 1995." 

Despite the lingering stereotype that teen sex is all about casual hookups with no commitment between sexual partners, 73% of teen females report that the first time they had sex, they did so with a steady boyfriend, a fiancé, a husband, or a cohabiting partner.

Safe Sex and Teens

The news gets better. Teens who engage in sex are taking more responsibility for avoiding pregnancy and sexually transmitted disease. From 2011 to 2013 over three-quarters (79%) of sexually active teen females used contraception when having sex for the first time. This represents a radical change in behavior from 1982, when only 48% of teen females used contraception the first time. Perhaps most importantly, this practice is sustained past that first encounter: "In 2006–2010, 86% of females and 93% of males aged 15–19 reported having used contraceptives the last time they had sex."

This increase in contraceptive use has paid off. "In 2013, the adolescent pregnancy rate reached a record low... less than 5% of females [aged 15–19] became pregnant." This is a precipitous decline of around a third of the peak rate, which occurred in 1990.

There's one thing that reality TV shows and teen pregnancy dramas do get right: 75% of teen pregnancies are unplanned.


"Adolescent Sexual and Reproductive Health in the United States." Guttmacher Institute, guttmacher.org. September 11, 2017.