Teen Sex Down, New Study Shows

Secretary Shalala Announces New Teen Pregnancy Prevention Grant Programs

Embargoed for Release 10 A.M. EDT: Thursday, May 1, 1997

Contact: Jeff Lancashire or Sandra Smith, NCHS Press Office (301) 458-4800, NCHS Homepage

The percentage of teenagers who have had sexual intercourse has declined for the first time after increasing steadily for more than two decades, HHS Secretary Donna E. Shalala announced today. These findings are part of a major new study of childbearing and family planning covering women age 15-44 years to be released later this month by HHS.

The 1995 National Survey of Family Growth, conducted by HHS’ National Center for Health Statistics, found that 50 percent of women 15-19 years of age had ever had intercourse [PDF – 650 KB], the first decline ever recorded by the periodic survey. The survey previously found that 55 percent of 15-19 year old women had ever had intercourse in 1990, reflecting a steady increase from 53 percent in 1988 and 47 percent in 1982. Earlier surveys found the percentage to be 36 percent in 1975 and 29 percent in 1970.

Additional research sponsored by HHS’ National Institute of Child Health and Human Development indicates a similar trend for teenage males. The percentage of never-married males age 15-19 years who have ever had sexual intercourse declined from 60 percent in 1988 to 55 percent in 1995, reversing a trend measured since 1979. The NICHD research was carried out by the Urban Institute.

“We welcome the news that the long term increase in teenage sexual activity may finally have stopped,” said Secretary Shalala. “But this news should encourage us to do more, not lull us into doing less. We need to change the cultural messages that have been accepted too long. Continual increases in teen sexual activity are not inevitable, and we can take action together to protect the health and well-being of our young people.”

The survey released today also found increases in the use of contraceptives at the time of first intercourse. Among women of all ages, some 76 percent of all those who began having intercourse in the 1990’s used contraception at first intercourse, up from 64 percent in the late 1980’s, according to the National Survey of Family Growth. The increase in contraception at first intercourse was a result of marked increases in condom use: from 18 percent in the 1970’s to 36 percent in the late 1980’s and 54 percent in the 1990’s. The NICHD-sponsored research also showed an increase in the use of contraceptives by teenage males or their partners at the time of first intercourse.

These increases in condom use may be related to another finding from the survey: 90 percent of women 18-19 reported that they have received formal instruction on sexually transmitted diseases, safe sex to prevent HIV, and how to say no to sex.

Secretary Shalala said the dramatic increase in contraceptive use at first intercourse and the decrease in sexual activity among teens may be responsible for the leveling off and recent decline of the teenage birth rate. HHS last October released data showing an 8-percent drop in the teen birth rate from 1991 to 1995, and the latest data available through June 1996 indicate that the decline has continued. Pregnancy rates for teens aged 15-19 also declined in 30 of 41 reporting states in 1992, the latest year for which statistics are available, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Speaking in Los Angeles today at a conference on girls and the media, Secretary Shalala announced two new community grant programs to prevent teen pregnancy and promote responsible behavior. One program will be aimed at teenage girls and the other at teenage boys. They are part of the National Strategy to Prevent Teen Pregnancy, announced in January.

“These grants will help communities develop innovative and comprehensive approaches to preventing teen pregnancy, especially by promoting all the activities and achievements that boys and girls should be saying ‘yes’ to,” Secretary Shalala said. “When young people can see lives of opportunity and hope ahead of them, they are more likely to make the right choices.”

The grant program for girls is part of the secretary’s new Girl Power! campaign, which is aimed at enhancing self-esteem, promoting good health, and preventing unhealthy behaviors among girls 9 to 14 years old. Each of the grant programs will total about $1 million per year and involve public-private partnerships organized by individual communities.

Tomorrow, in a White House ceremony, First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton will honor 12 organizations and individuals who are working in their communities to prevent and reduce teen pregnancy.

The 1995 National Survey of Family Growth, to be released in full later this month, will provide the latest and most comprehensive national data on fertility, contraception, marriage and cohabitation, infertility, adoption, maternity leave, medical services, breastfeeding, smoking and other factors which impact both teenage and adult women, and the health and well-being of their children. The study updates key trends, includes many new topics, and has significant new findings on teenagers. More findings of the survey available today include:

Approximately 16 percent of girls whose first intercourse was before age 16 reported that first intercourse was not voluntary, compared with just 3 percent of women whose first intercourse was at age 20 or older. (Overall, 8 percent of all women said that first intercourse was not voluntary.) In addition, nearly two-thirds of births to teenagers (65 percent) were unintended when they were conceived, compared with 31 percent of births to women of all ages. The study also found that teenage wives face a much higher risk of separation and divorce than women who wait longer to marry: 47 percent of women who married before age 18 saw their marriages dissolve within 10 years, compared with 19 percent of women who married at age 23 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, 7 percent said their partner was 20-22 and for 6 percent their partner was 23 or older.

Only 36 percent of teenage mothers breastfed their infants, compared with 55 percent of all mothers; and teen mothers who do breastfeed do so for a shorter time than adult mothers (an average of 18 vs 29 weeks, or about 4 vs 7 months).

The 1995 survey was based on 10,847 in-person interviews conducted by female interviewers in the homes of women 15-44 years of age who comprise a nationally representative sample.

The National Survey of Family Growth was jointly planned and funded by a number of HHS agencies: the National Center for Health Statistics, a part of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, one of the National Institutes of Health; and the Office of Population Affairs; with additional support from the Administration for Children and Families.

Excerpts from “Fertility, Family Planning, and Women’s Health” can be downloaded from the NCHS home page on the Internet at /nchs/nsfg.htm, along with the news release and ordering information for the upcoming full report.