WHO TOOK THE SURVEY
Nearly 3,500 students from 19 public and six private high schools in Hamilton County filled out the Youth Risk Behavior Survey anonymously.
A majority of Hamilton County high schoolers are sexually experienced, survey data released Thursday found.
Nearly half of Hamilton County high school students have had sexual intercourse, according to data from the Youth Risk Behavior Survey conducted by the county's Regional Health Council. Fifty-five percent of Hamilton County high school students have had sexual intercourse, oral sex or both.
Sexually active students were also 2.5 times more likely to smoke, drink or use marijuana than non-sexually active students, the survey found.
"Behaviors tend to cluster," said Ione Farrar, a community health planner with the county Health Department.
Farrar said she is concerned by data finding that 28 percent of sexually active students did not use birth control, didn't remember what kind they used or relied on withdrawal the last time they had sex.
And for some, sexual activity is starting at a young age. Eight percent of students reported in the survey that they first had intercourse before age 13.
Tre Lawson, 18, a senior at Central High School, said peer pressure can play a role in some students' behavior.
"It's just a way of trying to fit in," said Lawson, who also serves on the teen advisory board for youth development program On Point.
After the statistics were presented, panelists spoke about how to address potential problems that were revealed by the findings. Much of the discussion focused on encouraging parents to talk to their children.
"Make rules clear and enforce them," said Michelle Hunter, mother of 21-, 18-, and 13-year-old children who was asked to speak by the nonprofit First Things First. "Don't hesitate to talk about sex in front of the boyfriend and girlfriend."
Julie Baumgardner with First Things First, an organization whose focus is strengthening families, also said parents shouldn't be shy about providing their children with accurate information about sex.
"Somehow that word, S-E-X, ... people see it, and they hear it, and they freak out," she said.
The percentage of students who had intercourse in the 2011 survey was lower than the percentage in the 1998 survey and about the same as the percentage in the 2002 survey.
Rae Bond, executive director of the Chattanooga and Hamilton County Medical Society and Medical Foundation of Chattanooga and a member of the Regional Health Council, said the survey helps in seeing where the county has made progress and where help is needed.
"This is a community issue," Bond said.
General results from the survey already have been released, and detailed data about other topics will be released in the future.