A new study by researchers at The University of Texas School of Public Health has shown that school kids as young as 12 are engaging in risky sexual activity.
A team led by Dr. Christine Markham, assistant professor of behavioural science at the UT School of Public Health, examined sexual risk behaviours among middle school students in a large southeastern U.S. urban public school district.
"This is one of the few school-based studies conducted with this age group to look at specific sexual practices in order to develop more effective prevention programs," Markham said.
"This study shows that although most seventh graders are not engaging in sexual risk behaviours, a small percentage are putting themselves at risk," she stated.
Markham and colleagues define sexual intercourse as vaginal, oral or anal sex.
And as per their research, by age 12, 12 percent of students had already engaged in vaginal sex, 7.9 percent in oral sex, 6.5 percent in anal sex, and 4 percent in all three types of intercourse.
"These findings are alarming because youth who start having sex before age 14 are much more likely to have multiple lifetime sexual partners, use alcohol or drugs before sex and have unprotected sex, all of which puts them at greater risk for getting a sexually transmitted disease (STD) or becoming pregnant," Markham said.
The study found one-third of sexually active students reported engaging in vaginal or anal sex without a condom within the past three months, and one-fourth had four or more partners.
The more experienced students in all three types of intercourse were more likely to be male and African-American.
"We need to develop prevention programs that address the needs of students who are not yet sexually active in order to promote skills and attitudes to help them wait until they are older to have sex," Markham said.
"And we need to provide skills and knowledge related to condoms and contraception for youth who are already sexually active."
The study recommends that sexually active students also need to receive accurate and factual information and services related to STDs and pregnancy testing, as well as skills for future abstention and risk reduction for those who intend to remain sexually active.
More than one-third of youth in the study reported engaging in precoital touching behaviours. Among the students who engaged in precoital behaviour, 43 percent reported having engaged in sexual intercourse.
"We need more research to develop effective interventions, in particular for youth of color living in underserved areas," Markham said.
"A common misperception among adolescents is that oral or anal intercourse is not as risky for STD transmission.
"But transmission of non-viral and viral STDs can occur through all three types of intercourse when condoms are not used.
"It is critical that health education teachers and school nurses feel comfortable addressing these issues with their students and that their efforts are supported by parents and the school administration," she added.
The study has been published in the Journal of School Health.