Sexual Activity & Contraception

Sexual Activity & Contraception

Sexual Activity 

In 1982, 1983, 1984, and 1985 NLSY79 respondents were asked about their sexual activity.  Once the respondent answered the questions, he or she was not asked the series in subsequent surveys.  Out of a total of 12,686 respondents, 310 did not answer any of the questions in these years.

The first activity question asked respondents whether they had ever had sexual intercourse.  This question was skipped if the respondent had previously reported either being a parent or being pregnant.  Out of the 11,797 respondents, 889 or 7.5 percent stated that they had never had sexual intercourse.  The youngest respondents answered this question when they were 18.  The validity of these items is evaluated in Mott (1985).  These data should be used cautiously because inconsistencies in reports of first intercourse with subsequent fertility events can sometimes occur.  Respondents who had ever engaged in sex were then asked at what age they first had intercourse.  Table 1 includes frequencies broken down by race and sex, as well as a total for the whole cohort.

Table 1. Reported Age at which Respondents First Had Sex by Race and Gender

Age   Male   Female   Total
Hispanic
or Latino
Black NB/NH   Hispanic
or Latino
Black NB/NH   Number Percent Cum. %
<10   16 75 29   0 2 7   129 1.1 1.1
10   3 50 17   0 3 8   81 0.7 1.8
11   12 58 19   0 4 7   100 0.9 2.7
12   30 140 91   1 14 14   290 2.5 5.2
13   38 158 160   10 35 50   451 3.9 9.2
14   87 207 249   32 73 132   780 6.8 16.0
15   139 273 415   71 181 275   1354 11.8 27.8
16   178 276 742   125 313 584   2218 19.4 47.2
17   177 136 621   143 293 625   1995 17.4 64.6
18   117 90 527   145 282 711   1872 16.3 81.0
19   52 24 216   136 118 367   913 8.0 88.9
20   25 11 155   63 74 233   561 4.9 93.8
21   12 11 72   60 32 140   327 2.9 96.7
22   8 3 56   31 14 79   191 1.7 98.4
23   4 0 22   9 4 49   88 0.8 99.1
24   0 1 14   3 3 26   47 0.4 99.5
25   3 2 10   6 3 9   33 0.3 99.8
26   3 0 3   5 1 3   15 0.1 100
27   1 0 1   0 0 3   5 0.0 100
Total   905 1515 3419   840 1449 3322   11450 100 100
 
Note: Numbers are based on responses from the 1983, 1984, and 1985 NLSY79 surveys (R09880., R10207., R13122., R13796., R16916., and R17600.). Universe includes only respondents ever reporting sexual intercourse.

Questions in this section also ask NLSY79 respondents if they have had sex in the past month.  In 1983, respondents provided a yes/no answer.  However, in 1984 and 1985 they were asked the number of times they had sex in the last month.  The data contain some outlying entries; users should carefully decide how to interpret outlying data points in these distributions.  Additionally, there is evidence of a significant number of youth who changed their "ever had sex" status from yes to no between 1983 and subsequent survey years.

In 1984, the survey also asked if respondents had taken a sex education course.  If so, they were asked at what date they took the course.  Respondents also stated whether the first course they took covered:

  • The female menstrual cycle
  • Contraception methods
  • Where to obtain contraception
  • Effects of contraception
  • Sexual diseases

To test reproductive knowledge, respondents were also asked (Table 2) when pregnancy is most likely to occur during the female monthly menstrual cycle.  Answers in 1984 show a substantial portion of respondents did not choose the medically correct answer of about two weeks after the period.  Approximately 25 percent of men and 12 percent of women stated they did not know the answer.

Table 2. Knowledge of When Pregnancy Most Likely to Occur

Answer Males Females
Right before Period 1283 1185
During Period 352 128
Right after Period 963 806
About 2 Weeks after Period 1441 2549
Anytime 496 597
Don't Know 1480 725
 
Source: The data are from the 1984 survey: males R13150. and females R13826.

Contraception

Since 1982, NLSY79 respondents have regularly been asked about their use of contraception.  These contraception questions appear in the "Fertility" section of the questionnaire.  The questions were asked annually from 1982 to 1986.  After 1986 the questions were asked only in even years corresponding with the child supplements.  After 1994, the surveys became biennial and the questions were included in each survey.

The respondents are asked if they use birth control.  If they state that they do, the second question asks the frequency of these methods using a three-point scale of "always," "sometimes," or "almost never."  Finally, respondents are asked to state all the methods they have used in the past month from the following list:

  • Pill
  • Condom, rubber
  • Foam
  • Jelly or cream alone
  • Suppository or insert
  • Diaphragm with or without jelly or cream
  • Douching after intercourse
  • IUD, coil, loop
  • Operation-Female sterilization, tubes tied
  • Operation-Male sterilization, vasectomy
  • Natural family planning, safe period by temperature and cervical mucus test
  • Rhythm or safe period by calendar
  • Withdrawal/pulling out
  • Contraceptive sponge
  • Other Method

Over time the list has been expanded and now includes four additional choices:

  • Abstinence
  • Norplant
  • Cervical Cap
  • Depo-Provera
  • Hysterectomy

Beginning in 2002 a specific individual question was added asking respondents if they have been surgically sterilized.  If they have been sterilized they will not be asked this series of birth control questions again.  Previously, sterilization was an option among a list of birth control options (see list above), but it was not a separate question.

In most years, at the end of this three-question series, the interviewer fills in a question that states if anyone else was present during this part of the questioning.  Small children under three years old are not counted by interviewers when filling in their response.

In addition to these questions, female respondents who are pregnant or who have given birth since the last survey year are asked about their contraception methods before conceiving.  Respondents are asked if before becoming pregnant they used one of the birth control methods listed, or if they stopped all birth control methods before becoming pregnant.  Finally, they were asked if the reason they stopped using birth control was because they wanted to become pregnant.

Comparison to Other NLS Cohorts: NLSY79 young adults have been asked about both sex and birth control methods in the "Confidential" section of each survey.  In NLSY97 rounds 1 and 2, questions on sexual activity were asked of respondents who were at least 14 years old; all respondents were eligible in later rounds. These respondents were first asked if they had ever had sexual intercourse and if they had intercourse since the last interview (later rounds).  If a respondent reported ever having sexual intercourse, questions were asked about the first occurrence, such as the respondent's age and whether the respondent and the partner used birth control. For more precise details about the content of each survey, consult the appropriate cohort's User's Guide using the tabs above for more information.

Reference

Mott, Frank L.  "Evaluation of Fertility Data and Preliminary Analytical Results from the 1983 (Round 5) Survey of the National Longitudinal Surveys of Work Experience of Youth."  Columbus, OH:  CHRR, The Ohio State University, 1985.

Survey Instruments and Documentation The questions on sexual activity and contraception can be found in the "Fertility" section of each questionnaire.  In 1983, the fertility section was fielded as a separate supplement for those respondents who were not interviewed in 1982.
Areas of Interest The variables described above can be found within the "Birth Record" and BIRTHRECXX areas of interest.