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March 26, 2002

The Sexual Revolution and Teen Dating Trends is Explored in ASA’s Magazine, Contexts

The consensus of the mass media seems to be that, with apparent decreasing sexual activity, a new teenage conservatism is emerging. Sophisticated academic studies are substantiating these assumptions. But, is the sexual revolution really over? Are teens returning to conservative sexual values? Are we witnessing the end of sexual liberalism and a new trend toward virginity before marriage?

Barbara Risman, North Carolina State University, and Pepper Schwartz, University of Washington, reexamine assumptions as well as data reflecting the alleged end of the sexual revolution among teenagers in the article “After the Sexual Revolution: Gender Politics in Teen Dating” in Contexts, the newest journal of the American Sociological Association.

Studies show that a smaller proportion of youth between the ages of 15 and 17 are sexually active. Between 1991 and 1997, teenagers reporting having sexual intercourse dropped 5.7 percent, and the teen pregnancy rate was down 14 percent. Risman and Schwartz found that, while the data show declining sexual activity, claims of a sexual conservatism among teens is somewhat exaggerated if not misinterpreted. Several rigorous studies indicate that the number of high school boys—but not girls—under 18 who remained virgins dramatically increased. Sexual activity of white and Hispanic females has remained generally stable while black females reduced their rates of sexual activity more sharply, moving toward levels comparable to that of white and Hispanic girls. The authors speculate that cultural norms for females have dramatically changed, giving them greater influence or control within a relationship.

Risman and Schwartz believe that there is no counterrevolution, but instead the sexual revolution was such a success that it has revised the framework of how American society thinks about sex. It redefined sexual activity as a right of individuals and not merely as a means for reproduction or even marital intimacy. Teenagers living in this culture are struggling to create new norms that work for them in the 21st century.

Further information on Contexts can be found on its webpage at . Media interested in a copy should contact Johanna Ebner, ASA Public Information Office, at (202) 383-9005 x320 or e-mail

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The American Sociological Association (, founded in 1905, is a non-profit membership association dedicated to serving sociologists in their work, advancing sociology as a science and profession, and promoting the contributions to and use of sociology by society.