CDC Survey Indicates 1 in 5 Teens Are Confused over Sexual Identity
While the percentage of high school students who reported they had ever had sex fell from 47% in 2011 to 30% in 2021, a growing number of young people appear to be rejecting heterosexuality, according to a survey conducted by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC).
The survey’s findings, which were released April 28, suggest one in five U.S. high school students are something other than heterosexual — or were questioning their sexual identity. The CDC’s Adolescent Behaviors and Experiences Survey polled over 7,900 high schoolers between January and June 2021.
Meg Kilgannon, FRC’s Senior Fellow for Education Studies, termed the survey results “alarming.”
On “Washington Watch,” last Friday, Kilgannon said parents must recognize there are forces targeting children with perspectives that are at odds with God’s plans. The unspoken factor behind the numbers in these reports, she continued, is the “absolute epidemic of pornography that confronts children at younger and younger ages.”
“Our children are not growing up in the world we grew up in,” Kilgannon stressed. “They have technologies that provide them with images we would never have imagined.” She noted youngsters are viewing these images at “young, formative ages.”
“We need to be honest with ourselves. As much as we try to protect our children from this, there is a billion-dollar pornography industry that is coming after our children with their messaging,” she said. The only defense against this onslaught, Kilgannon said, is for young people to understand and appreciate the “beauty and wonder of God’s plan for human sexuality.”
Also joining guest host Jody Hice on “Washington Watch” was Irene Erickson, a senior research analyst with the Institute for Research and Evaluation. She told Hice the CDC survey was credible, but that it did present some findings that demand further research.
“I’m not inclined to question the validity of the numbers,” Erickson said. “The question is what is behind these numbers,” she continued, saying the discussion point needs to be on what is causing students to respond in this way. She noted the study, in which a sample of U.S. students anonymously report, did not include transgenderism as a possible response. She said only 3% of the respondents selected “gay” or “lesbian.”
“The data is very different than it was six years ago,” Erickson said, pointing out that the categories of “bisexuality” and “questioning” had the biggest increases. “We do need to ask why this shifted so dramatically in such a short time,” she said, speculating that the inclusion of “questioning” as a category within sexual identity might be making the overall number more dramatic than it really is.
In 2021, three-quarters of students self-identified as heterosexual, just over 3% as gay or lesbian, 12% as bisexual, 5.2% as questioning, and 3.9% as other. The percentage of students with a sexual identity other than heterosexual has increased steadily, from 11% in 2015 to 26% in 2021.
On the survey, students were asked to self-identify: “Which of the following best describes you? A. Heterosexual (straight) B. Gay or lesbian C. Bisexual D. I describe my sexual identity some other way E. I am not sure about my sexual identity (questioning) F. I do not know what this question is asking.”
The CDC noted increases in the percentage of LGBQ+ students in the most recent survey might be a result of changes in wording to include students identifying as questioning.
Also of note in the biennial surveys were higher rates of poor mental health and suicidal thoughts and behaviors. In 2021, almost 60% of female students experienced “persistent feelings of sadness or hopelessness” during the past year and nearly 25% reported making a suicide plan.
Hice wondered if the CDC was trying “to sway public opinion to make these [lifestyles] appear more embraced than what they actually are.” Erickson told him she was unable to respond to the CDC’s motives in this report.
“Yet I do see a trend in the social science research generally — that it is being highly politicalized,” she explained.
“The questions that need to be looked at are the fact that gay and lesbian categories have not changed that much, but the other categories have,” Erickson said. “We see this internationally as well,” she added.
She said the number of students identifying as transgender in England has “skyrocketed” over the past 10 years, with most of the increase within teenage girls. Erickson went on to note that some who study these trends cite messages about sexuality that youngsters are receiving on the internet as contributing to the growth.
“There is a change that has happened, and it is corroborated by sources other than the CDC,” Erickson said. An analysis of data, including the CDC’s Youth Risk Behavior Survey, by the Williams Institute at the UCLA School of Law notes that teenagers identifying as transgender make up 18% of the transgender-identified population in the United States, up from 10% previously.
“When you ask people about their sexual identities in this way,” Kilgannon said, “many students are making claims about their sexuality … when they have never had any sort of meaningfully emotional or intimate relationship with another person.”
“We need to be concerned that children are willing to identify themselves in this way,” she said. “We need to pray for our children and grandchildren,” Kilgannon said. “We need to have meaningful relationships with them.” She encouraged parents and grandparents to talk to their children and grandchildren to try to better understand them and the culture in which they live.
“We need to try to be interested in things they are interested in,” she said. But most importantly, Kilgannon continued, “Let them experience authentic relationships in our own homes and communities, so that when these inauthentic relationships are presented online, they are not nearly as attractive.”
For a deeper dive into the findings discussed in this article from the 2021 Youth Risk Behavior Surveys, see this CDC supplementary table of related data. An overview and methods for the biennial survey are available here.
K.D. Hastings and his family live in the beautiful hills of Middle Tennessee. He has been engaged in the evangelical world as a communicator since 1994.