Teens Are Still Having Sex, But Pregnancy Rate Hits All Time Low

The inevitable new is that teens are still having sex. But the good news is that teen pregnancy has hit an all-time low.

New research indicates that, while only slightly fewer teens are sexually active, more and more teens are waiting until they are older to engage in sex. They are also more likely to use contraception. With the struggles teen parents face, the drop in pregnancies among girls ages 15 to 19 is remarkable.

The teenage birth rate fell eight percent in a single year — from 2010 to 2011 — the newest reports from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show. That means they are now down 25 percent since 2007 and an astounding 49 percent since 1991.

The new rate of teen pregnancy is 31 births in every 1,000 girls ages 15 to 19.

“There is lots of good news in the report,” said Brady Hamilton, a statistician at the National Center for Health Statistics who led the study.

This decrease is good news and not just because teenaged parents are rarely ready to cope with the responsibilities of raising a child. Young teens are more prone to certain pregnancy-related health risks such as underweight birth weight and stillborn babies.

While the study doesn’t look at teen behavior, other research suggests that the reason for the drop is two-fold. One, more teens are waiting until they are older to have sex. Two, more teens are using some form of contraceptive. But other than some educated guesses, no one really knows why the sudden drop in teen pregnancies.

Laura Lindberg, a senior researcher at the Guttmacher Institute, says, “If anyone tells you they know exactly why this has happened, they are lying. We don’t have all the research and behavioral data in place up to 2011.”

“We have gone from a social norm where you don’t use contraception at first sex to where you do,” she said. “Lots of study shows that using contraception at first sex begins a pattern of using it down the road.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has changed its guidelines on contraception and now recommends long-acting birth control methods such as IUDs, which are devices implanted in the uterus, and hormonal birth control drug implants, as the first-line contraceptives offered to teens. “The reason that is important is failure rates are much lower,” Lindberg said.

Lindberg suggests that the IUD is particularly effective for young teens who may not remember to take a pill every day. “Especially for teens,” she notes, “Once an IUD is there, there’s nothing to remember. You don’t have to do it every morning.”

While teens are still having sex, pregnancies could be at an all-time low thanks to the Obama administration. New government rules now require health insurers to provide birth control care for free, without even a co-pay.

Perhaps another clue is that girls no longer have to have a full pelvic exam before they receive a prescription for the pill. While guidelines used to mandate that a woman receive a full pelvic exam either when she becomes sexually active or after the age of 21, new federal guidelines allow for girls to wait until they are 21 to be examined.

“We think that’s lowered what we call the psychic barrier to getting prescription contraception methods,” Lindberg said. “For teenaged girls that first (exam) can be frightening.”

Noting that there is probably no “one state policy” that caused the change, it is remarkable to note that the pregnancy rate has dropped among all ethnic groups and states.

So does the drop in pregnancies really make that much of a difference? Brady Hamilton wanted to find out, and made some calculations.

“If the rates in 1991 had remained the same, there would have been 3.6 million additional births to moms aged 15-19,” he said. More than a million fewer babies came into the world between 2008 and 2011. “This has had a real impact,” he said.

Even with the substantial drop, teen births in the United States are still far higher than any other developed country. In 2010, while the U.S. had a teen birth rate of 37.9 births per 1,000 teenaged women, Switzerland had a mere 4.3 births per 1,000 teens. Russia had 30.2 per 1,000, and Britain it was 25 per 1,000.

Why do you think the teenaged pregnancy rate has dropped?

[Image via Shutterstock]

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