Teen sexual activity may not have changed much in the United States in the past few years, but there's reason to believe youngsters are becoming more responsible about their actions.
A new government study has discovered that while more than half of American teenagers have had sex by age 18, most of them chose to use contraceptives during intercourse. In fact, many of them preferred to use some form of contraception when they had sex for the first time.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has been monitoring the sexual activities and behaviors of teenagers between the ages of 15 and 19 since 1988. Over the past couple of decades, researchers have noticed a steady decline in teen sexual activity.
In its latest report [PDF], the CDC interviewed 4,134 male and female teens, who have never been married, from 2011 to 2015. Of this number, about 55 percent said they've had sex by the time they became 18.
Despite the relatively high number of teens who've had sex, the researchers found that most of the participants used contraception during their first time.
From 2011 to 2015, contraceptive use among female teens rose to 81 percent from 74.5 percent in 2002. More males were also using contraceptives during sex, with the number reaching 79.6 percent in 2006 to 2010 from 70.9 percent in 2002.
Overall, the use of contraception among U.S. teens has seen a significant increase over the years. About 90 percent of females said they use contraceptives during sex, compared with the 80 percent recorded in 1988. As much as 95 percent of male teenagers also reported of using contraceptives, compared with the 84 percent in 1988.
Lower Teen Birth Rates
The CDC study suggests that the greater use of contraception has contributed to a decline in teen birth rates. From a high of 62 pregnancies per 1,000 teenagers in 1991, the number has dropped to about 22 pregnancies per 1,000 teens in 2015.
Joyce Abma, a researcher from the CDC's National Center for Health Statistics and one of the authors of the study, said the rates of teen pregnancies peaked in 1990. They have since dropped to more than 50 percent.
Abma pointed out that the level of teen sexual activity dropped sharply until about 2002. It has since gradually declined as contraceptive use among teens steadily increased.
The cause for such a decline in teen sexual activity could be difficult to determine as there is no one definitive reason. However, evidence suggests that it could be attributed to sex education for teenagers, as well as the rise in popularity of TV shows such as "16 and Pregnant" and "Teen Mom."
The study's findings also show that teenagers are also more likely to use contraceptives when having sex. The number of female teens who said they've had sex in the past three months and used contraceptives at their last intercourse rose to 90 percent in 2011 to 2015. This represents a 13 percent increase since 1988.
Abma explained that this could be credited to an increase in contraceptive options available to teenagers, such as IUDs, birth control patches and implantable devices. The increased use of emergency contraception could also have contributed to this trend.