Teen Contraceptive Use Goes Up and Birth Rates Come Down

The teen birth rate dropped by 9 percent and this good news is almost exclusively due to teens changing their contraceptive habits for the better.

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Would it be wrong of me to start an article with an “I told you so?”  Probably, but I’m going to it anyhow.  In numerous articles, I (and many of my esteemed colleagues) have said that when given the information and the tools to do it, teens will act responsibly when it comes to their sexual health.  We now have more data to prove that because the CDC announced earlier this month that teen birth rates hit a record low in 2010. Last year, there were 34 births per 1,000 teens ages 15 to 19.  This is a 9 percent decline from 2009 and marks the third year in a row that birth rates came down.  (Teen pregnancy rates have not yet been released but because there was also a decline in the teen abortion rate, researcher believe that overall teen pregnancy rates went down as well.) 

As the Guttmacher Institute explains this good news is almost exclusively linked to improvements in teens’ use of contraception.  Guttmacher points out that “there was no significant change in the overall proportion of females aged 15 to 19 who were sexually experienced or engaging in sexual activity. There was, however, a dramatic shift in teen contraceptive use.”  Not only are they using contraception more often, they are also using more effective methods. According to the National Survey of Family Growth, more teens used condom, pills, and emergency contraception in 2008‒10 than in the previous survey years 2006‒08. 

Specifically, in 2008‒10, among teens who had ever had sex:

  • 59.8 percent reported having ever used the birth control pill compared to 50.8 in 2006‒08
  • 97.9 percent reported having ever used a condom compared to 93.7 percent in 2006‒08
  • 14.6 percent reported having ever used emergency contraception compared to 12.3 percent in 2006‒08

In addition, teens who had ever had sex reported using both hormonal methods and long-acting reversible methods more often the last time they had sex. Specifically, in 2008‒10:

  • 47.5 percent reported using any hormonal method (pill, patch, vaginal ring, implant, or injectable) the last time they had sex compared to 37.3 in 2006‒08
  • 4.4 percent reported using long-acting reversible method (IUD or implant) the last time they had sex compared to 1.4 percent in 2006‒08
  • 23.2 percent reported dual use (condoms and a hormonal contraception) the last time they had sex compared to 16.1 percent in 2006‒08

Finally, fewer teens (.5 percent in 2008‒10 compared to 2.4 in 2006‒08) reported that they were trying to get pregnant.  

Guttmacher points out that there is no direct data available to “tell us why teens are changing their contraceptive practices.”   Its researchers speculate, however, that changes in medical recommendations that allow young people to access IUDs (which were previously only recommended for older women who had already had children) and make it easier for young people to access hormonal contraception (in many cases they can now do so without a pelvic exam or pap smear) have had a positive impact. 

So, back to the “I told you so:”  it looks like when we make good information and the contraception they need available, teens will use it and they won’t become pregnant.  

That is fabulous news that we all need to start spreading, especially now as the availability and coverage of contraception is under seemingly constant political attack.