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Sexual health and identity

Presenting data on young people’s sexual behaviour and how they identify.  Sections include what age young people start to have sexual relationships; contraception use; conception and birth rates for young parents; and sexually transmitted diseases.

In England, Wales and Scotland the under 18 conception rate has continued to fall since the 1990s

Sexual activity

Age 16 - Average age of first sexual intercourseWe have surprisingly few representative data on young people’s sexual activity in the UK. The most definitive survey (the National Survey of Sexual Attitudes and Lifestyle) was undertaken in 2012 and so is now quite out of date. The youngest age group in that survey were 16-24 year olds. The results confirmed the fairly consistent finding that the average age of first heterosexual intercourse is 16 years. Nearly one third of both men and women reported that they first had heterosexual intercourse before they turned 16 (Mercer et al, 2013).

There are also limited sources of data from young people under 16, and the results vary. Different surveys use different questions with different age groups, so comparing the UK countries or identifying time trends is very difficult. Analysis of the UK Millennium Cohort Data (dating from 2014/15) showed 3% of 14 year olds (in 2014/15) had experienced “heavy intimate activity” including oral sex and/or sexual intercourse (Kelly et al, 2019). Similar proportions were reported in the Northern Ireland Young People’s Behaviour and Attitude Survey 2019 where 3% of 11-15 year olds were “sexually experienced” including intercourse, and 64% had no sexual experience (NISRA, 2020). In Wales, a survey of Year 11 students (17/18 year olds) reported that one in four had experience of sexual intercourse (Page et al, 2021).

The Health Behaviour in School Aged Children national surveys also ask questions about sexual behaviour. In the most recent 2018 surveys in England and Scotland, 20% of 15 year olds said they had experienced sexual intercourse (Brooks et al, 2020; Inchley et al 2020). The English report noted that the number of young people who said that they have had sexual intercourse had decreased substantially since 2002 among both boys and girls. Similarly, the proportion of young people who report very early onset of sexual intercourse (age 12 years or younger) had decreased across the same period (Brooks et al, 2020).

All data correct as of 1st November 2021