From a hastily forced kiss to outright rape, violent or at least coerced sexual contact may be worryingly common among teens and young adults, researchers reported Monday.
They found 9 percent of youths aged 14 to 21 admitted to some kind of forced sexual contact, using tactics from guilt to threats and actual physical force. Half blamed their victims.
Four percent of the more than 1,000 young men and women surveyed admitted to having raped someone else, the researchers report in the American Medical Association journal JAMA Pediatrics.
But most who tried or completed rape said they didn't use physical force – 63 percent of those who said they had forced someone to have sex against their will said they used guilt as their main tactic, while 32 percent said they used arguments and other verbal pressure.
And the problem behavior tends to really begin at around age 16, said Michele Ybarra of the Center for Innovative Public Health Research in San Clemente, California and Kimberly Mitchell of the University of New Hampshire.
Ybarra says the study doesn't paint the whole picture and she says the findings should encourage other researchers to dig a little deeper into questions about sexual behavior in the teen years, and whether it's possible to predict and even prevent sexual violence.
What is clear is that many teens are not getting the message that 'no' means no, she said.
"What we wanted to find was the intent to get somebody to do something sexually when they knew the person did not want to do it," Ybarra said in a telephone interview.
It's hard to know just how common the problem really is, or how representative the teens and young adults in the survey are of the whole population. They'd all been taking part in a broader survey of teen use of violent media that started in 2006, when most were about 12, Ybarra and Mitchell say.
"We know that adolescence is an important time when these types of behavior emerge," Ybarra said.
The questions are very detailed and do not include words such as "rape". The teens were asked questions such as "In the last 12 months, how often have you kissed, touched, or done anything sexual with another person when that person did not want you to?"
Image: Teen couple, via Shutterstock