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Emergency Contraception

Teenage Sexual and Reproductive Behavior in the United States

The Changing Face of Teen Sexual Activity and Unplanned Pregnancy

Over the past two decades, the pregnancy rate among sexually experienced teenage girls aged 15-19 has declined by 19%, indicating that many are doing a better job at using contraception. But, because the percentage of teens who have had sex has been steadily increasing at the same time, in real terms, the problem of teen pregnancy is getting worse. In addition, as of the late 1980s, a higher proportion of teenage girls who get pregnant are giving birth and, over the last three decades, dramatically fewer are getting married when they become teen mothers, resulting in more children in households with single teen mothers.

Sexual Activity

  • The proportion of 15- 19-year-old girls who are sexually active rose from 47% in 1982 to 55% in 1990.

  • Fifty-six percent of teenage girls and 73% of teenage boys today have had sexual intercourse by their18th birthday. In the early 1970s, 35% of girls and 55% of boys had had sex by that age.
  • Most very young teenage boys and girls have not had intercourse — 84% of 13-year-olds, 77% of 14-year-olds and 70% of 15-year-olds.
  • While the likelihood of having intercourse increases steadily with age, 1 in 5 teenagers do not have intercourse during their teenage years.
  • Seven in 10 girls who had sex before age 14 and 6 in 10 of those who had sex before age 15 report having sex involuntarily.
  • Most teenagers begin having intercourse in their mid-to-late teens, about 8 years before they marry.
  • Among the most common reasons teens have sex, according to 55% of teens, is that “they think they’re ready.”
  • Six out of ten teenage girls say another reason why teen girls may have sex is because a boyfriend is pressuring them.

Contraceptive Use

  • Five out of ten (48%) teens say they use birth control “all the time,” an additional 24% say they use it “most of the time,” and 15% say they use it “sometimes.” Only 11% of sexually active teens say they never use birth control, approximately the same percentage as sexually active adults who don’t.

  • The contraceptive most frequently used by teens is the condom (44%), followed by birth control pills (40%). One-quarter of the teenagers who use the pill also use the condom.
  • Two-thirds of teenagers use some contraceptive method — usually a condom — the first time they have intercourse.
  • Teenage girls’ birth control use at first intercourse rose from 48% to 65% during the 1980s, almost entirely because of a doubling in condom use (from 23% to 48%).
  • A sexually active teenage girl using no contraception over one year has a 90% chance of becoming pregnant.

Sexually Transmitted Diseases (STDs)

  • Three million teenagers — about 1 in 4 sexually experienced teenagers — acquire an STD every year.

  • In a single act of unprotected sex with an infected partner, a woman has a 1% risk of acquiring HIV, a 30% risk of getting genital herpes, and a 50% chance of contracting gonorrhea.
  • Chlamydia is more common among teenagers than among older men and women; in some studies, up to 30% of sexually active teenage girls and 10% of teenage boys tested for STDs have been found to have chlamydia.
  • Teenagers have higher rates of gonorrhea than sexually active men and women aged 20-44. In some studies, up to 15% of sexually active teenage girls have been found to be infected with HPV, the virus that causes genital warts, many with a strain of this virus linked with cervical cancer.
  • By the end of 1995, there were more than 2,300 teenagers known to have AIDS.
  • Teens are worried about getting AIDS or other STDs. Four out of ten teens say they worry at least some about getting AIDS someday or another STD.

Teenage Pregnancy

  • About one million teenage girls — 11% of all girls aged 15-19 (112 per 1,000) and 20% of those who have had sexual intercourse (204 per 1,000) — become pregnant each year.

  • Eighty-five percent of teenage pregnancies are unplanned, accounting for one-quarter of all unplanned pregnancies each year.
  • Fifty-four percent of teenage pregnancies each year (960,000 in 1992) end in birth (most of which are unplanned); about one-third end in abortion (32%) and the rest in miscarriage (14%).
  • Among sexually experienced teenagers, about 16% of 14-year-olds, 17% of 15- 17-year-olds and 23% of 18- 19-year-olds become pregnant each year.
  • Teenage pregnancy rates are much higher in the United States than in many other developed countries — twice as high as in England and Wales, France and Canada; and 9 times as high as in the Netherlands or Japan.
  • Of all births to U.S. women, 13% are to teenagers.
  • Twenty percent of U.S. abortions each year are to teenagers.
  • A majority of teens (55%) say when teens have unplanned pregnancies, it’s “often” a result of having sex when drunk or on drugs. Forty-six percent say it’s “often” because teens have sex when they don’t have birth control with them.

Sources of Data:

The data in this fact sheet are from research conducted by the Kaiser Family Foundation, The Alan Guttmacher Institute, the National Center for Health Statistics, and/or were published in Family Planning Perspectives.

For More Information:

Kaiser Family Foundation Survey on Teens and Sex: What They Say Teens Today Need to Know, And Who They Listen To,1996.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Sex and America’s Teenagers, The Alan Guttmacher Institute, 1994.

Testing Positive: Sexually Transmitted Disease and the Public Health Response, The Alan Guttmacher Institute, 1993.

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