ABC News Poll: Sex Lives of American Teens

STARTER SEX? -- The results do not find support for anecdotal reports that significant numbers of teens are engaging in oral sex as an alternative to intercourse, or see it as a more casual substitute. Instead, seven in 10 teens who've done either have done both. And as many report having had intercourse but not oral sex as report having had oral sex but not intercourse.

Moreover, rates of both oral sex and sexual intercourse are equally low among young teens, contrary to the notion of oral sex as a kind of "starter sex." Instead, more common starter sex appears to be romantic kissing and intimate touching.

Most teens, 53 percent, say oral sex and intercourse are equally intimate behaviors. And while a third of teens say intercourse is "more intimate," this group is no more likely than other teens to say they're postponing intercourse.

MORES -- Broadly, most teens express restrained sexual mores. Six in 10 say it's "not OK" for people their age to "hook up -- that is, to do to sexual things." Four in 10 say hooking up is OK in at least some cases, rising to nearly half of older teens; for some, this is likely because doing "sexual things" doesn't necessarily include oral sex or intercourse.

Indeed, just over three-quarters say specifically that oral sex is "not OK" for people their age, and 80 percent say that about sexual intercourse. Even more -- nine in 10 -- reject all three of these if they're done without an emotional commitment, in other words, "just doing it for the sex."

Some attitudes and behaviors do conflict. Even among teens who say it's "not OK" to hook up sexually, half also say they themselves have kissed romantically, and three in 10 say they've touched someone or been touched in a sexual way. Far fewer, though, have had oral sex or intercourse.

There's a greater dichotomy in teens' personal aims for sexual relationships, and the perceived aims of those around them. Most teens, 72 percent, say they're more interested in a committed sexual relationship with a steady partner than in casual sex with no attachments. But 58 percent think most other teens their age have the opposite interest -- a preference for casual sex.

Underscores Need for Communication

The survey results underscore the critical role of good information and open communication. Teens are less likely to be sexually active if they've gotten most of their information about sex from parents or teachers, as opposed to friends. Sexual activity is lower among those who say their parents or sex education classes answered most of their questions. And teens who feel comfortable talking with their parents about sex are nearly twice as likely to say their parents know what they're doing sexually.

Eight in 10 teens have had sex ed classes, and eight in 10 of them say such classes answered most of their questions. But, as noted, just half say they've ever talked with their parents about sex. And fewer -- 32 percent -- say they get most of their information about sex from their parents (four in 10 girls, and less than a quarter of the boys).

There's a broad disconnect between parents and teens on this issue. In an ABC News survey of adults, 90 percent of parents said they've spoken with their teenagers about sex. In this survey, only 49 percent of teens say that's so. Clearly, whatever the parents thought was a conversation about sex, the kids didn't hear it that way.

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