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May 1997

Teen Sex Down New Study Shows

The number of teenagers who are sexually active has declined XX percent since 1990, according to a major new study of childbearing and family planning released today by HHS.

The 1995 National Survey of Family Growth found that 50 percent of women 15-19 years of age had ever had intercourse, compared with 55 percent in 1990 and 53 percent in 1988. The study also found that 76 percent of women used contraception at their first premarital intercourse in the 1990's, up from fifty percent in the preceding two decades. Condom use at first intercourse has tripled since the 1970's, from 18 to 54 percent.

"The dramatic increase in contraceptive use at first intercourse and the small decreases in sexual activity among teens may be responsible for the leveling off and recent decline of the teenage birth rate," said HHS Secretary Donna E. Shalala. HHS had previously released data showing an 8-percent drop in the teen birth rate from 1991 to 1995.

The survey also showed that a growing number of women 18-19 years of age (now 9 out of 10) are receiving formal instruction on birth control methods, safe sex, and how to say no to sex. "It's good news that we are helping young women to protect themselves from premature sex and pregnancy," said Secretary Shalala, "but we still must do more to ensure that teens not only have the facts but also the will to postpone sexual intimacy."


The 1995 National Survey of Family Growth, conducted by the National Center for Health Statistics, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, provides the latest and most comprehensive national data on fertility, contraception, marriage and cohabitation, infertility, adoption, maternity leave, medical services, breast feeding, smoking and other factors which impact the health and well-being of mothers and their infants. The fifth in a series of major surveys since the 1970s, the study updates key trends and also includes many new topics.


The increase in use of the condom from 1982 to 1995 was the main change in the pattern of contraceptive use the survey found. In 1982, 4 percent of never married women 15-44 years of age relied on their partners to use condoms; in 1988, 8 percent, and in 1995, 14 percent. The leading methods in 1995, as in 1988, were female sterilization (18 percent of women 15-44, or 10.7 million), the oral contraceptive pill (17 percent, or 10.4 million), the male condom (13 percent, or 7.9 million), and male sterilization (7 percent, or 4.2 million).


The new contraceptive methods were used by small proportions of women in 1995: hormonal injectables by 2 percent, hormonal implants by 1 percent, and female condoms by less than 1 percent.


Nearly 30 percent of women who used the pill as their only method of contraception reported that they missed one or more pills. Almost 33 percent of the 9.7 million women using the condom, diaphragm, and other coitus-dependent methods used them inconsistently in the last 3 months; 38 percent of teenagers reported using such methods inconsistently.

The 1995 survey was based on 10,847 in-person interviews conducted in the homes of women 15-44 years of age who comprise a nationally representative sample. A short section of the interview was self-administered to improve the quality and completeness of responses to questions which may be sensitive but which provide important information.

For example, the survey included questions on the voluntary nature of sexual intercourse. About 8 percent of women said that their first intercourse was "not voluntary," including 22 percent of those whose first intercourse was before age 15, and 5 percent or less of women whose first intercourse was 17 or older..


The study asked for the age of the woman and her male partner when she had her first voluntary intercourse. Of women who had their first voluntary intercourse before age 16, 66 percent reported that their partner was under 18, 21 percent said their partner was 18 or 19, and 7 percent said their partner was 20-22; only 6 percent said their partner was 23 or older.


The report presents the latest and trend data on many other aspects of reproductive health:

Unwanted Childbearing -- About 10 percent of births in 1990-1995 were unwanted by the mother, compared with 12 percent in 1984-88. The decrease in unwanted births between these two time periods was particularly large for black women--from 29 to 21 percent.

Impaired Fecundity -- In 1995, about 6.1 million women reported that it was difficult or impossible for them to get pregnant or carry a baby to term, compared with 4.9 million in 1988. About 15 percent of the 60 million women of reproductive age had used some kind of infertility service at some time in their lives.

Breastfeeding -- About 55 percent of babies born in 1990-93 were breastfed, about the same percentage as in 1982-1987. Only 36 percent of teenage mothers breastfed their babies in 1990-93, compared with 69 percent of mothers 30 and older.

Pelvic Inflammatory Disease -- PID is caused by a variety of infectious agents, including sexually transmitted diseases. PID can cause recurrent pain, ectopic or tubal pregnancy, and can lead to infertility if not treated. In 1995, 8 percent of women reported that they been treated for PID at some time in their lives, down from 11 percent in 1988 and 14 percent in 1982.


The National Survey of Family Growth was jointly planned and funded primarily by the National Center for Health Statistics, the National Institute for Child Health and Human Development, and the Office of Population Affairs, with additional support from the Administration for Children and Families, all within HHS.


"Fertility, Family Planning, and Women's Health" is available at the National Center for Health Statistics, 6525 Belcrest Road, Hyattsville, Md. 20782 and can be downloaded from the NCHS Home Page on the Internet at

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