July 22, 2015 — The percentage of teenagers who have sex appears to be leveling off after declining sharply over the past 25 years, according to a CDC report released on Wednesday, the Daily Beast reports (Zadrozny, Daily Beast, 7/22).
For the report, CDC researchers interviewed about 2,000 U.S. residents ages 15 to 19 between 2011 and 2013 (Stobbe, AP/San Francisco Chronicle, 7/22).
According to Politico Pro, CDC assessed the number of teenagers who have had sex and their contraceptive use to determine the risk of pregnancy during adolescence. CDC noted in the report that teenage pregnancy accounts for roughly $9.4 billion in public costs annually and "has negative consequences for the physical, psychological and economic well-being of the young mothers and their children" (Ehley, Politico Pro, 7/22).
Age of First Intercourse
Between 2011 and 2013, the study found that 44% of girls ages 15 to 19 and 47% of boys ages 15 to 19 said they had had sex.
The overall percentage has declined by 14% for girls and 22% for boys over the past 25 years, but it has not substantially changed for either sex since 2002, the Daily Beast reports (Daily Beast, 7/22). According to the AP/San Francisco Chronicle, the decline in the number of teenagers who have had sex over the past 25 years is often attributed to improved sexuality education and heightened concern among teenagers about sexually transmitted infections (AP/San Francisco Chronicle, 7/22).
The researchers also found the rate of teens who have had sex is higher among younger teenage boys than among younger teenage girls, though the disparity decreases as teenagers age. The rate of teenagers who reported having had intercourse by age 15 was 18% among boys and 13% among girls. By contrast, 44% of boys at age 17 and 69% of boys at age 19 said they had had sex, and the rates were similar among girls at those ages as well (Daily Beast, 7/22).
CDC also found that 84% of teenage boys and 79% of teenage girls reported using contraception during first sexual intercourse.
According to the report, the most common form of contraception was condoms. In addition, the researchers found that 60% of female teenagers said they had used withdrawal, while 54% said they had used oral contraception. Meanwhile, the report found that 22% female teenagers reported using emergency contraception in 2011 to 2013, up from 8% in 2002 (Sifferlin, Time, 7/22).
Further, the researchers found that teenagers who were older at the time of first intercourse were more likely than younger adolescents to use contraception. Among teenagers who had sex first at age 17 or younger, 82% of boys and 77% of girls said they used contraception. By contrast, among teenagers who had sex first at age 18 or 19, 93% of girls and 99% of boys reporting using contraception (Politico Pro, 7/22).
The authors wrote, "Understanding these patterns and trends in sexual activity, contraceptive use, and their impact on teen pregnancy can help provide context regarding the recent decline in the U.S. teen birth rate." According to Politico Pro, the teenage birth rate fell about 10% between 2012 and 2013.
Gladys Martinez, lead study author and statistician with the National Center for Health Statistics, said, "We found that teens are delaying first having sex until they are older, and the older they are when they first start having sex, the more likely they are to use a contraceptive method." She added, "All the pieces kind of line up, when you look at the declining birth and pregnancy rates" (Politico Pro, 7/22).
Martinez also noted that teenagers who use contraception the first time they have sex likely would continue their contraceptive use. "It sets you on a trajectory of being a contraception user," she said (Daily Beast, 7/22). According to the study, teenage girls who did not use contraception during first intercourse were about twice as likely as those who had used contraception during first sex to give birth as a teenager (Time, 7/22).
Bill Albert, chief program officer for the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy, said, "The message here is that progress can and has been made on a very challenging social issue and the credit goes to teens themselves," as well as to comprehensive sexuality education programs. He added, "But it is not time to hang a 'Mission Accomplished' banner or declare victory ... We need to continue to work" (Daily Beast, 7/22).