I currently have three teenagers in my house. We’ve had the sex talk. We’ve had the “’no’ means no” talk. The STD talk. The teen pregnancy talk. What oral is and isn’t talk. Heavy petting? Yep. Masturbation? You bet. First base? Second base? Third base? Of course. Your body is your body is your body pep talk? Done and done. I believe in bodily autonomy, and I believe in comprehensive sex education and having open, honest discussions about sex (consent, protection, contraception, all of it) with our children.
Bearing all that in mind, if I’m truly being honest, the whole time I’m also thinking: “Just don’t have sex right now, okay? Don’t. It’s not meaningful at your age. Just please don’t do it. Stay healthy and celibate, okay? Your body and mind will thank you later.”
Turns out I’m not just being a mom, and there’s actually a research-based scientific study on my side from some highly respected people: the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. And they are not only focused on the transmission of STIs. I’m talking about general healthy self-care behaviors that it appears abstinent teens partake in at a rate far higher than their sexually active peers.
In a study that is the first of its kind, adolescent youth in grades 9 to 12, who were self-reporting both sexual behaviors and health-related behaviors, the CDC found that those youth who remain celibate are healthier than their sexually active counterparts in many more and diverse ways, some of which have nothing to do with sex or its unintended consequences.
Some of the samples of the categories of health-related behaviors the teens were asked to report on include tobacco usage, drug and alcohol use, sexual habits, unhealthy dietary behaviors, and behaviors that contribute to unintentional injuries and violence. Additionally, things like bike helmet and seat belt use, diet, doctor’s visits, exercise, and even tanning bed use were analyzed among both sexually active and virginal teens.
Two striking observations were made from the study:
1. The virginal students rate significantly and consistently better in nearly all health-related behaviors and measures than their sexually active peers.
2. Teens who have sexual contact with the same or both sexes have remarkably lower percentages of healthy behaviors overall than their heterosexually active peers.
At times, the healthy behavior disparities between teens who are having sex and those who are not are quite dramatic. Take a look at the findings:
Seat Belt Use: Opposite-sex-active (OSA) teens are 143% more likely to never or rarely wear a seat belt than virginal peers. Same-sex/bisexual-active (SS/BA) teens are 317% more likely than virginal peers.
Passenger With a Drinking Driver: OSA teens are 94% more likely to ride with a driver who’s been drinking than virginal peers. SS/BA teens are 115% more likely than virginal peers.
Dating Violence: OSA teens are 260% more likely to experience some form of physical violence in dating relationships than virginal peers. SS/BA teens are 683% more likely than virginal peers.
Smokes Daily: OSA teens are 3,300% more likely to smoke daily than virginal peers. SS/BA teens are 9,500% more likely than virginal peers.
Ever Binge Drank: OSA teens are 337% more likely to ever binge drink than virginal peers. SS/BA teens are 375% more likely than virginal peers.
Marijuana Use: OSA teens are 336% more likely to be currently using marijuana than virginal peers. SS/BA teens are 483% more likely than virginal peers.
Ever Injected an Illegal Drug: OSA teens are 500% more likely to have ever injected a non-prescription drug than virginal peers. SS/BA teens are 2,333% more likely than virginal peers.
Felt Sad or Helpless: OSA teens are 48% more likely to report feeling so sad or helpless almost every day for two or more weeks in a row that they stopped doing some of their usual activities, compared to virginal peers. SS/BA teens are 181% more likely than virginal peers.
Tanning Beds: OSA teens are 282% more likely to use indoor tanning beds than virginal peers. SS/BA teens are 364% more likely than virginal peers.
Eat Breakfast Daily: OSA teens are 24% less likely to eat breakfast daily than virginal peers. SS/BA teens are 48% less likely than virginal peers.
Eight Hours of Sleep: OSA teens are 21% less likely to get eight hours of sleep a night than virginal peers. SS/BA teens are 34% less likely than virginal peers.
At the end of the day, teens are going to have sex if they want to. I’m not advocating shaming our children, or withholding vital information about safe sex and contraception. These are things that are absolutely necessary, but I’ve shared the findings of this study with my teenagers, making sure to highlight to them how celibacy at their age is related to many other healthy behaviors, and ultimately a higher sense of well-being.
Which behavior begets the other cannot be concluded from the study’s findings, but we can definitely conclude they go hand in hand, and the reasons not to have sex in high school go beyond teen pregnancy and STDs. As the teen pregnancy rate and percentage of teens engaging in sex continues to decrease, I’m encouraged that it appears the consequences may be a generation of healthier kids.