FOR DECADES, AMERICAN parents and policy makers have fretted about the sexual proclivities of American teenagers. Now that studies suggest a slight upward trend in the average age of first sexual encounter, alarmists have found a way to twist this into cause for concern, too.
"Some observers are beginning to wonder whether an unambiguously good thing might have roots in less salubrious developments," The Atlantic's Kate Julian wrote in December. "Signs are gathering that the delay in teen sex may have been the first indication of a broader withdrawal from physical intimacy that extends well into adulthood."
Put more simply: Along with suffering from gnat-like attention spans and increasing levels of narcissism, internet-addicted young people have allegedly lost their desire--and perhaps ability--to physically connect.
But there's little good data to support these pessimistic theories. Adults should stop worrying about whether and when teens are having sex and look instead at the big (and positive!) teen sex picture.
According to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), teen sex rates may be down, but among those who are having sex, use of condoms, emergency contraception pills, and other forms of birth control is up. Meanwhile, teen parenthood rates--a strong predictor of depressed wages, unstable relationships, and a host of other undesirable outcomes--have dropped steadily and significantly since the 1990s.
The birth rate for U.S. teenagers aged 15-19 "fell almost continuously since 1991, reaching historic lows for the nation every year since 2009," the CDC reported in 2016. In 2015, there were about 22.3 births per 1,000 girls in this age group. By 2017, the number had dipped to 18.8 per 1,000. The drop could be seen across racial, ethnic, and geographic lines.
Among younger girls, births were also at record lows. The birth rate for females aged 10-14 was at 0.2 per 1,000 females in 2016, down from 0.9 in 2000, according to the CDC. That's 2,253 births compared to 8,519.
The emergence of fewer teen moms helps tell another fertility story, this one also likely to be misinterpreted by those intent on finding doom in all...