ATLANTA (CBS Atlanta) — According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, almost half of all high school students have engaged in sexual intercourse. Of those, a reported 15.3 percent already had sex with at least four people in their lifetime.

The Atlanta-based CDC additionally noted on its official website that engaging in such activity at an early age “place[s] adolescents at risk for HIV infection, other sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), and unintended pregnancy”

The trend has fostered significant concern regarding the sexual habits of young adolescents , concern that, according to a new study, is misplaced.

Researchers at the Guttmacher Institute have found that younger children are engaging in sex far less frequently than the general public may think.

Through the study, researchers learned that very few boys or girls in the 10-12 age range had ever engaged in sexual intercourse. In fact, less than 1 percent of 10-year-olds ever had sex, and only 1.1 percent of 11-year-olds and 2.4 percent of 12-year-olds had done so, according to the study.

Public data regarding vaginal intercourse, pregnancy and contraceptive use in children ages 10-19 that was collected between 2006 and 2010 was analyzed by researchers to help them reach their conclusions. The data came from both the National Survey of Family Growth, conducted by the U.S. National Center for Health Statistics for each year, as well as other sources, the release noted.

“Policymakers and the media often sensationalize teen sexual behavior, suggesting that adolescents as young as 10 or 11 are increasingly sexually active,” lead author Lawrence Finer was quoted as saying in a press release on the study. “But the data just don’t support that concern.”

He added, “Rather, we are seeing teens waiting longer to have sex, using contraceptives more frequently when they start having sex, and being less likely to become pregnant than their peers of past decades.”

Researchers also noted that sexual encounters are “frequently involuntary” for young adolescents.

“Sixty-two percent of females who had had sex by age 10 said that their first sex was coerced, as did 50% of those who had had sex by age 11,” the release noted.

Authors of the study feel that health care professionals and pediatricians who care for children in this age group are in what they refer to as “an ideal position” to educate them about contraception and make available to them contraceptive materials. Screenings for non-consensual sexual activity were also suggested.

The findings were published in the paper “Sexual Initiation, Contraceptive Use and Pregnancy Among Young Adults,” which was written by Jesse M. Philbin, according to the release that was published on the institute’s website. The study was also published to the website of the journal Pediatrics.

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