WASHINGTON — Teenage sexual activity, pregnancies and births appear to have held steady since 2002, while condom use among adolescents has increased, according to new federal data released Wednesday.
A survey of more than 4,600 teens ages 15 to 19 conducted between 2006 and 2010 found that about 43 percent of females and about 42 percent of males who had never been married had had sexual intercourse at least once, which was about the same proportion as the last time the survey was conducted in 2002, according to the National Center for Health Statistics. In most cases, teens had sex with someone with whom they were “going steady,” although 16 percent of the girls and 28 percent of the boys had sex with someone they had just met or with whom they were “just friends.” About one-third percent of those surveyed had had sex within the previous three months, which is what is considered “sexually active.”
The birth rate in the latest survey was 39.1 per 1,000 females in 2009, an historic low for the United States. The study noted, however, that that rate remains far higher than many other developed countries.The teen pregnancy rate remains at about 71 per 1,000 females.
But since 2002, there was a 9 percentage point increased in the proportion of male teenagers who used a condom during their first sexual encounter. During the same period, there was a 6 percentage point increase in the proportion who used a condom in combination with a female partner’s use of a hormonal contraceptive, according to the National Survey of Family Growth, which involved detailed interviews with 4,662 teens.
Seventy-eight percent of females and 85 percent of males used some kind of contraceptive during their first sexual encounter, with condoms remaining the most popular method. Overall, contraceptive use had changed little since 2002, except for the increase in condom use among males alone and in combination with a partner’s use of a hormonal contraceptive. There was also an increase in the percentage of female teens who used a hormonal contraceptive other than a birth-control pill, such as an injectable contraceptive and a contraceptive path.
After rising for many years, teen pregnancy and birth rates declined steadily between 1991 and 2005. But the pregnancy rate jumped about 3 percent and the birth rate increased by about 5 percent between 2005 and 2007, triggering widespread alarm and an intense debate over whether the emphasis on abstinence-until-marriage sex education or so-called “comprehensive” sex education that includes information about contraceptives was to blame.