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"The perception is all kids are engaging in oral sex.

Obviously, that's not the case," says Jennifer Manlove, a senior research scientist with the Washington, D.

A growing number of teens and young adults say they've never had sexual contact with another person, according to the largest and most in-depth federal report to date on sexual behavior, sexual attraction and sexual identity in the USA.

The study, released Thursday by the National Center for Health Statistics, reports that 27% of young men and 29% of young women ages 15-24 say they've never had a sexual encounter.

That's up slightly from 22% for both males and females, in the government's last such survey released in fall 2005, based on 2002 data.

The new findings, from the 2006-2008 National Survey of Family Growth, look at responses from 13,495 teens and adults ages 15-44, including 5,082 ages 15-24.

Dennis Fortenberry, an adolescent medicine specialist at the Indiana University School of Medicine in Indianapolis, who was not involved in the study.

"As young people progress through their adolescence, increasing proportions of them experience sexual relations with another person," he says."Some young people make a strong commitment to not having sex for a variety of reasons and some take different paths." Among ages 15-17 in the new study, 58% of girls and 53% of boys said they have had no sexual contact, compared to 48.6% of girls and 46.1% of boys in 2002.For ages 20-24, 12% of women and 13% of men said they have never had sexual contact, compared with 8% for both sexes in 2002.Debbie Roffman, a human sexuality educator in Baltimore, says it does appear "that there is a trend toward postponement." "As to why, there are certainly multiple factors at work," she says."While greater caution due to fear of physical consequences is likely one, more positive factors are likely to be at play as well."For instance, more young people may be choosing to wait for a more quality sexual experience, knowing it is more likely to come with maturity, and/or greater involvement by parents in communicating about sexual values and decision-making and providing greater supervision and monitoring of their children's activities." While changes from the earlier numbers are small, the new study goes into much greater detail and fills in many gaps in the 2002 data, says lead author Anjani Chandra.