Sexual Activity & Dating

Sexual Activity & Dating

Created Variables

Child Trends, Inc., created three variables related to sexual activity for release with the round 4 data set:

FP_SEXEVER. Indicates whether respondent had ever had sex by round 4 interview.

FP_SEXAGE. Provides respondent's age at first sex.

FP_SEXYEAR. Provides the round (up through round 4) respondent first reported having sex. All are included in the main file data set; see the Codebook Supplement Appendix 9 for more information and statistical analysis. 


In rounds 1 through 5, NLSY97 youth respondents were asked whether they had ever been on a date or unsupervised social outing with a member of the opposite sex. Those who had were questioned on their age the first time they went on a date. Other questions included how often the respondent dated and the number of different people he or she went out with on a date in the past year (round 1) or since the last interview.  

Beginning in round 6, the instrument expanded to gather more detailed information on dating patterns and relationships, and habitation status (e.g., cohabiting, married, etc.). In addition, the “opposite sex” terminology was replaced with the phrase “dating partner.” For the most recent romantic partner of the respondent, the questionnaire obtained his/her initials, race, gender, whether he or she was of Hispanic or Latino origin, and educational attainment. The questions included both same- and opposite-sex partners. The dating section follows relationships across rounds to find out how on-going dating relationships progress and/or end. Note: although respondents indicate whether their most recent dating partner was male or female, NLSY97 respondents have never been asked specifically to identify their sexual orientation as straight or LGBT.

Starting in round 13, respondents were no longer asked about the number of dates and the number of dating partners.

Intercourse and Pregnancy

In rounds 1 and 2, data on sexual activity were obtained from respondents who were at least 14 years old; all respondents were eligible in later rounds. Through round 15, respondents answered detailed questions about their sexual activity (starting in round 16, the question series was reduced to a few "summing up" questions). Respondents were first asked if they had ever had sexual intercourse and if they have had intercourse since the last interview. If a respondent reported ever having sexual intercourse, questions were asked about the first experience (e.g., the respondent's age, whether the respondent and the partner used birth control). Those who reported not using any method of birth control were questioned on whether they wanted a pregnancy at that time. Rounds 2 and up also included a question that specifically asked whether respondents used a condom that first time. Additional information was collected about the respondent's total number of partners and the number of partners in the previous year (round 1) or since the last interview (subsequent rounds). Complementing information on the number of times that the respondent had sexual intercourse in the past 12 months (round 1) or since the last interview (subsequent rounds), the surveys gather the frequency of his or her birth control use during that same period. Respondents also indicated the frequency of condom use. Finally, these respondents stated the method of birth control used most often.

Additional questions were included in rounds 4 and up concerning the respondent's first sexual experience (not all questions were asked in all survey years). These questions asked for the month and year this experience occurred; the age of the respondent's partner at that time; the location where it occurred (e.g., family's home, partner's home, hotel); the time of day; the status of the relationship at that time (e.g., dating, living together, engaged); the ethnicity and race of the partner; whether they discussed birth control before that point; and, if they used birth control, the methods they used that first time.

Starting in round 16, respondents were asked the gender of their recent sexual partners: exclusively male, exclusively female, or some of each.

The same respondents eligible for questions on sexual activity also answer questions on pregnancies in the self-administered section. This information on the respondent's pregnancies, including those that ended in miscarriage or abortion, is described in Fertility, Pregnancy & Children. Additionally, information on the respondent's knowledge about pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases is found in Health.

Comparison to Other NLS Surveys: Information on sexual activity was gathered from NLSY79 respondents in the 1983-85 surveys; data on contraception have been regularly collected since 1982. NLSY79 Children age 13 and older have reported on their sexual activity beginning in 1988. Children age 15 and older have also provided information on contraceptive use since 1994. For further details, consult the NLSY79 Child & Young Adult User's Guide.

Survey Instruments: Questions on dating and sexual activity are found in the self-administered section (question names begin with YSAQ) of the Youth Questionnaire.

Related User's Guide Sections Health
Fertility, Pregnancy & Children
Main Area of Interest Sexual Activity
Supplemental Areas of Interest Attitudes
Fertility and Pregnancy