By Saundra Young
CNN Medical Senior Producer
The number of teens having sex hasn’t changed much over the past eight years, according to a new report examining sexual behavior in teens aged 15 to 19. The report, from the National Survey of Family Growth (NFSG), was released Wednesday by the National Center for Health Statistics of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It looked at trends in sexual activity, contraceptive use, and attitudes toward pregnancy among unmarried teenagers, and found that there had been no significant changes since the last report. the NFSG in 2002.
Based on data from a two-year period between 2006 and 2008, it found that more than 42% – or 4.3 million – of teenage girls had had sex at least once. That number was 43 percent – or 4.5 million – for teens. Almost 30 percent of the boys and girls surveyed have had 2 or more partners. Adolescents who were younger when they first had sex were more likely to have more partners. And teens whose mothers had their first child in their teens and, at age 14, didn’t have both parents at home were more likely to be sexually active.
Joyce Abma, Ph.D., a demographer at the National Center for Health Statistics and co-author of the study, says the message is mixed. “It’s a bit worrying that the data suggests a slowdown from the improvements in the ’90s study. But there are still some positive signs and things are going in the right direction, so it looks like the efforts still need to be focused on motivating teenagers to prevent pregnancy and this is all the more true given that the teenage birth rate in the United States is so much higher than in comparable countries. “
According to Abma, the country with the second highest teenage birth rate is the UK – and our rate is 1 1/2 times higher, and the gap keeps growing after that. In Canada, the teenage birth rate is 13 per 1,000. Here, it’s 43 per 1,000. “
The encouraging news is that nearly 80 percent of teenage girls and 90 percent of teenage boys have used some kind of contraceptive the first time they have sex. Condoms remain the most commonly used form of contraception. Ninety-five percent of sexually experienced girls have used them at least once. Withdrawal was next, followed by the pill.
Usually the first partners were someone the teenager dated regularly. Then there was someone they had just met, although those encounters were more likely to happen with boys than with girls. For teens who abstained completely, the most common reason for doing so was because it was against their moral or religious beliefs. Pregnancy was the second. Interestingly, pregnancy hasn’t always been a deterrent. In fact, parents might be surprised to learn that almost a quarter of boys and girls who have had sex said they would be “happy” if they got pregnant or got a partner pregnant. And a majority of teens – 64% of men and 71% of women – felt it was okay to have a child out of wedlock.
“I was a little surprised at the level of agreement that unmarried motherhood is acceptable and that it has increased among men. This, combined with the attitude results, seems to suggest that men are less concerned about inducing pregnancy compared to the 2002 survey. ” said Abma.
Sadly, the survey found that teenage girls in the 15-19 age group still have higher rates of chlamydia and gonorrhea than any other age group and teenagers. Almost half of all new sexually transmitted diseases affect adolescents and young adults between the ages of 15 and 24.
The study was based on face-to-face interviews with nearly 3,000 adolescents. The report can be viewed online at http://www.cdc.gov/nchs. Data from a new survey currently underway will be available next year and will add to the current results and will be broken down by race and Hispanic origin.
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