A new survey from the National Survey of Family Growth found that American teens’ sex habits haven’t changed much over the past decade. The survey, which is sponsored by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), found that teens’ contraceptive use hasn’t changed much either.
Since 1988, the federal health organization has been tracking the sexual behaviors and activities of teens in the United States aged 15 to 19. The numbers published in Thursday’s report involved data gathered in interviews with 4,134 teenagers from 2011 to 2015.
Between 2011 and 2015, 42 percent of female teens and 44 percent of male teens reported having sex at least once, which marks a 1 percent decrease for women and a 2 percent increase for men over the previous survey that was conducted between 2006 and 2010. The researchers noted these differences are not statistically significant.
Teens’ sexual activities and contraceptive use rates have not changed significantly
The report also found that there was a significant decrease in teens who reported having sex between 2011 and 2015 compared to teens who reported doing so back in 1988. The survey found that contraceptive use has significantly increased in the past years, as over 90 percent of females are now using contraceptive methods, compared with 80 percent in 1988; while males reported an increase in contraceptive use too, from 84 percent in 1988 to 95 percent between 2011 and 2015.
Compared with the 2006-2010 results, the new survey found that reported contraceptive use increased from 86 to 90 percent in females, and 93 to 95 percent in males, respectively. However, these numbers were not statistically significant either, according to the CDC.
The survey discovered that condoms, withdrawal, and the birth control pill were still the most commonly used contraceptives, as percentages have remained steady over the years. Condoms were at the top with 97 percent of teen females using them, while 60 percent preferred withdrawal, and 56 percent used oral contraceptive pills. These results are aligned with the latest rates of teen pregnancy and births in the U.S., which have been steadily decreasing since the 1990s. In fact, 2015 marked a historic low of teen births, as only 22.3 births per 1,000 teens were recorded.
Around 55 percent of teens also reported having sex at least once by the time they turned 18. Eighty-one percent of teen females reported using birth control the first time they had sex, while 90 percent said they used it during their last sexual encounter within the last three months.
‘Young people are doing a great job at making responsible decisions about their sexual health’
Joyce Abma, a demographer at the CDC and lead author of the new report, noted it’s important to understand these trends and to be aware of them because teen pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases are public health issues.
“Teen sexual activity and contraceptive use are the direct mechanisms that lead to teen pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections,” said Abma, according to CNN. “So knowing how prevalent, how common, those behaviors are and how they differ according to different subgroups, demographically, helps policy makers and practitioners know where and how to apply intervention.”
The CDC survey has been conducted annually since 1988, and it involves face-to-face interviews in participants’ homes. The responses given by these teens are gathered in complete privacy, and the CDC has not changed the questions since the survey first inquired teens about their sexual activity and contraceptive use in the late 1980s.
Nicole Cushman, the executive director of Answer, a national organization that’s tasked with providing sex education training to teachers and which provides resources to young adults, said the report results are good news for teens.
“This new data really confirms the continuation of trends that we’ve been seeing for many years now in teen sexual health,” said Cushman, according to CNN. “My take-away message from these trends over the years is that young people are doing a great job at making responsible decisions about their sexual health.”
Relationships should be considered when creating survey questions for teens
Cushman believes that the trends show that when organizations like hers’ equip young people with the knowledge and the skills to protect their sexual health, they are capable of making decisions best for them.
However, she noted that there might be room to expand the scope of questions on the annual surveys.
“Very often, when we look at reports like this, we get focused on the clinical details around pregnancy prevention and STD prevention. And those are certainly important topics,” told Cushman to CNN. “But when we work with actual teens, what they often remind us of is that these behaviors take place in the context of relationships.”
Cushman added that teens are really concerned with the emotional aspects of those relationships and that that’s something they need to consider when crafting sex education and public health programs.