Fewer teens having sex, but more using contraception.
Morals, religion still top answer on delayed activity
New federal data show that fewer teens are having sex, but those who do are using contraception more often to avoid pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases.
The data, published Thursday, are part of the National Survey of Family Growth, and were collected by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Center for Health Statistics.
The study’s goal was to examine the risk of pregnancy among teenagers. Focusing on heterosexual intercourse, researchers interviewed more than 4,000 male and female teenagers between 15 and 19 years old. The data were collected between 2011 and 2015.
The researchers note in the study that much of the data has remained stable over the past 10 years in terms of number of teens who report having sex, and that there have been slight increases in the percentage of teens using contraception.
“It didn’t increase, which is good,” study author Joyce Abma said about the number of teens having sex, “but the decline didn’t continue as much as it had in the past.”
The data included the number of male and female teenagers reporting having ever had sex, reported use of contraception and preferred methods and reasons given for those who are not sexually active.
The study found that 44 percent of males and 42 percent of females between 15 and 19 reported ever having sex — a decline from 1988, when 60 percent of males and 51 percent of females reported ever having sex.
For nonsexually active males and females, the No. 1 reason to delay having sex was because it is against “religion or morals.” For those who did have sex, the majority responded that it was with someone with whom they were “going steady” (74 percent for female teens and 51 percent for males).
Ms. Abma expressed some surprise that males and females shared similar outlooks on a variety of questions.
“I think the fact that similar percentages have ever had sex is interesting. Anecdotally, you might think that males would be more sexually experienced, but we don’t see that in the data,” she said.
“So it’s interesting how males and females — you might think they have different reasons for delaying sexual activity or not getting involved yet — but they seem to be on the same wavelength in that regard.”
The survey asked how teens felt about unplanned pregnancies and how that affected their contraceptive use. Researchers found that the overwhelming majority of male and female teenagers who responded that they would be “very displeased” if a pregnancy were to occur also reported high use of contraception methods.
“For females who would be very upset or a little upset if they became pregnant, only 4 percent did not use a method the last time they had sex. Another way of saying that is 95 percent used a method,” Ms. Abma said, adding that even those who would be happy with a pregnancy still were using contraception. “For female teens who said they’d be a little pleased or very pleased … 84 percent used [contraception].”
For sexually experienced female teenagers, virtually all reported using contraception — at 99 percent — up from 98 percent in 2002 and from 96 percent in 1995.
However, choices of contraception were not always the most effective means in preventing pregnancies or preventing the transfer of sexually transmitted infections.
“The most commonly used methods among teenagers are these less effective methods, but they’re most readily available,” said Ms. Abma.
According to the data, the most popular methods of birth control for female teenagers were ranked as condoms (97 percent), withdrawal (60 percent) and the pill (56 percent).