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Teen Pregnancies Plummet Due to Higher Contraceptive Use


There was a drastic decline in teenage pregnancy in 2015 due to higher contraceptive use, according to a study published last month by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The study used survey data collected between 2011 and 2015 from a nationally representative sample of male and female teens, aged 15-19; the survey has been conducted annually since 1988 by the National Survey of Family Growth.

The teen pregnancy and birth rate dropped to 22.3 births per 1,000 teens in 2015, compared to a whopping 62 births per 1,000 in 1991.

The findings revealed that nearly all sexually active teens use contraceptives. Those who have had sex by the age of 18 mostly use condoms.

Decline in Teenage Pregnancy: Underlying Factors

Among females aged 15-19, 99.4 percent had reported ever using some form of contraceptive in 2011-2015, compared to 97.7 percent in 2002—and 80 percent in 1988. Additionally, there has been a significant decrease in the rate of sex among teens aged 15-19. Among males, 44 percent have had sex compared to 60 percent in 1988. For females, the rate dropped from 51 percent to 42 percent in that period.

“Teen sexual activity and contraceptive use are the direct mechanisms that lead to teen pregnancy,” Joyce Abma, one of the co-authors of the report, told Reuters. “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.”

Nicole Cushman, the executive director of Answer an organization that equips teachers to teach sex education to young adults, told CNN that this report proves how sexual education is helping teens make decisions that benefit their well-being.

“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,” Ms. Cushman said. “I think it really shows that when we equip young people with the knowledge and the skills to protect their sexual health, they’re capable of making decisions best for them.”

Complex Integration of Straightforward Data

Though policymakers might be tempted to draw the conclusion that more contraception necessarily leads to a decline in teenage pregnancy, it’s important to understand that the reality is not so straightforward. The Atlantic last year cited a study that determined that condom-distribution programs in high schools had in fact contributed to an increase in pregnancy rate by two births per 1,000 teens. Schools that chose not to offer any sexual counseling to accompany their condom-distribution programs contributed to an even higher rate of pregnancy.

“Easy access to condoms created worse outcomes for students, not better. But it seems that lack of access to information may have hurt them even more,” concluded The Atlantic.

The article cited another study that showed greater success in the decline of teenage pregnancy through the distribution of long-acting reversible contraceptives like intrauterine devices.

On the other end of the sexual education spectrum, a 2007 report put together by the Guttmacher Institute that traced the decline in sex rates among teens since 1988 showed that abstinence-only programs were not a major contributing factor in this trend. The study emphasized that abstinence-only programs have not been shown to decrease or delay sexual activity.

“Very often, when we look at reports like this, we get focused on the clinical details around pregnancy prevention and STD prevention,” Ms. Abma told Reuters, regarding her CDC study. “But when we work with actual teens, what they often remind us of is that these behaviors take place in the context of relationships. And teens are concerned with the emotional aspects of those relationships. So that’s something we need to consider when crafting our sex ed and public health programs.”

The study noted that the U.S. teen pregnancy rate is still significantly higher than in other developed countries. (For context, in 2011 Canada’s teen pregnancy rate was 13 per 1,000 teens. France and Germany’s teen pregnancy rates in 2011 were seven and five out of 1,000, respectively).

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