Sexually Active Teens are Likelier to Attempt Suicide

Throughout recent years, the number of teens contemplating suicide has jumped significantly compared to where it was in the 1990s.

In fact, suicide is the 2nd most common cause of death amongst adolescents and young adults.

This information is alarming, and it’s a result of many extenuating factors. According to one specific study, among the reasons for teen suicide attempts are the following:

  • Previously existing mental health conditions that aren’t treated lead to intrusive, depressed, or racing thoughts
  • Difficulty coping with social pressures from peers, teachers, or others
  • Experiencing a breakup or bullying
  • Fighting with a family member

One problem that the above-referenced study does not discuss is the link that adolescent sexual activity (which has also increased since the 90s) has with suicide attempts.

How Does the Link Between Sexual Activity and Teen Suicide Attempts Impact Us as Lawyers?

When you’ve prevented as many innocent people from ending up on the Child Abuse Central Index as we have, you’re introduced to some extreme scenarios.

One of these instances that we’ve encountered is when a teenager attempts to take their own life or expresses suicidal ideations, and then makes a child abuse allegation. It’s not uncommon for law enforcement and child protective services to use this as evidence and leverage it against the (falsely) accused.

The implication here, of course, is that the alleged transgression is what caused the suicide attempt or suicidal thoughts.

However, the implication not only flies in the face of the research cited above, but it also ignores other data about sexually active teens. This information is discussed in detail throughout an article called “Sexually Active Teens Are More Likely to Be Depressed and to Attempt Suicide” by Robert Rector, Kirk Johnson, and Lauren Noyes, published for Center for Data Analysis Report #03-04 in July 2003. In the section below, we’ll examine the findings presented in the article.

It’s worth noting that the purpose of the article is not to investigate, probe or explain the reasons teens make false allegations of child abuse. However, there’s enough evidence to show that a teen suicide attempt or suicidal though could be related to the teen’s own sexual activity or other behavior, and not alleged abuse.

What Does Science Say About Sexually Active Teens and Suicide?

A survey that garnered 6,500 responses from adolescents across the U.S. was put together by the National Institute of Child Health and Development.

Here are some of the more poignant results:

  • 25.3% of sexually active teen girls reported feeling depressed all, most, or much of the time, while the same could only be said for 7.7% of non-sexually active ones.
  • 8.3% of sexually active teen boys reported feeling depressed all, most, or much of the time, while the same could only be said for 3.4% of non-sexually active ones.
  • 14.3% of sexually active adolescent females had attempted suicide compared to 5.1% of non-sexually active ones.
  • 6% of sexually active adolescent males had attempted suicide compared to 0.7% of non-sexually active ones.

The article in question cites many reasons for these findings, namely that teens feel regret over sexual activity. Also, there are various social factors at play, such as race and age.

Key Takeaways from These Findings

What we can take away from the research cited above is that the mental health of teenaged females is disproportionately impacted by being sexually active.

Yet, even then, sexually active teenaged boys were still 8x likelier to attempt suicide than males who abstained from sexual activity.

While teens experience the bodily and hormonal changes that make them desire sex as an adult would, their brains are still developing. Engaging in sexual activity before being emotionally and mentally ready opens them up to an array of consequences that they aren’t mature enough or emotionally equipped to handle.

This transitional nature of adolescence leaves adolescents vulnerable when they take that huge step into sexual activity, misguided by their basest instinct.

When combining the above notion with the factors discussed in the intro, sexually active teenagers face many hurdles that impact their mental well-being.

Why Doesn’t a Suicide Attempt Hold Up as Evidence of Abuse?

In the absence of more reliable evidence, a suicide attempt being propped up as discernable proof of abuse holds little weight.

If a teen is sexually active, it’s understandable that there would be an array of other factors contributing to them trying to take their own life.

If a child protective services social worker or law enforcement officer asks, “Why else would the teenager have tried to end their life if not for the abuse?” it shows the officer or social worker is unfamiliar with the complicated nature of teenagers.

There are too many other potential reasons for an adolescent to be suicidal, and a defense team worth its salt would point this out. For these reasons, it can be incredibly difficult to prove that a suicide attempt resulted from an alleged (and false) act of abuse.