Did Teenage Boys Get a Bum Rap?

What was commonly believed: In the 1970s and 1980s, teenage males were often viewed as “sexual adventurers,” or “roving inseminators,” who typically sought to have many partners and relished the pursuit of sexual conquests.

What the research showed: Participants in the 1988 National Survey of Adolescent Males reported “surprisingly conservative sexual behaviors,” according to a 1991 Perspectives article. Sexually experienced respondents aged 15–19 said they had had an average of 1.9 partners in the last year and had had intercourse an average of 2.7 times in the last month. Furthermore, the numbers of partners since first intercourse, partners in the last month and acts of intercourse in the last month reported by 17–19-year-olds in this sample were all significantly lower than the numbers reported by males of the same age in a 1979 national survey—and even the earlier numbers hardly proved that teenage males overall deserved the reputation that those old, colorful labels implied.

Cover illustrations of Margaret Sanger © Matthew and Eve Levine