This Week in Sex: U.S. Fertility Drops, Teen Birth Use Control Goes Up

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Roundups Sexual Health

This Week in Sex: U.S. Fertility Drops, Teen Birth Use Control Goes Up

Martha Kempner

Two new sets of data suggest just how well and how much folks in the United States are using contraception. Experts on HIV/AIDS resign from a presidential advisory panel, and you can send a sex toy to Congress for a cause.

This Week in Sex is a weekly summary of news and research related to sexual behavior, sexuality education, contraception, STIs, and more.

U.S. Birth Rate Sees Historic Decrease

The Center for Health Statistics released data showing that fewer babies are being born in the United States. Both the number of babies born—almost 4 million—and the birth rate—62 births per 1,000 women between the ages of 15 and 44—dropped by one percent in 2016. This is a record low birth rate for the country.

You may have heard reports about teen pregnancy and teen birth falling for the last two decades, and this new information confirms that the trend continues with a 9 percent drop in birth rate among women ages 15-to-19 since 2015. Overall, the teen birth rate has dropped a whopping 67 percent from its high in 1991 (for more on teens behaving responsibly, keep reading below).

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What has gotten less attention is the drop in birth rates among women in their 20s. While not as drastic—a 4 percent drop in one year for women ages 20-to-24 and a 2 percent drop for women ages 25-to-29), they are the lowest rates ever recorded for this age group and likely contribute to the dropping national fertility. Women in their 30s and even 40s are making up for it somewhat; their birth rates are higher than they have been since the 1960s, but that is not enough to keep the overall birth rate steady.

A declining birth rate is neither good nor bad, though some countries panic at the prospect of a population slide.

But there was some bad news in the report. There was a small increase in the number of preterm births (babies born before 37 weeks’ gestation) though most of this occurred in babies born after 34 weeks. The earlier a baby is born, the more likely they are to have health complications such as lung or vision problems. There was also a slight uptick in the number of babies born weighing less than 5 pounds, 8 ounces (which is typically considered low birth weight), which again can put the babies at risk of health issues such as heart and respiratory problems.

Taken together, these statistics suggest that women and their partners are waiting until later in life to take on the challenges of parenting. Experts explain that the U.S. fertility rate has been under replacement rates since the 1970s, though immigration keeps our population numbers up.

But we should take this data seriously—especially the statistics that show we need to improve maternal and child health care in this country.

Saying It Again: Sexually Active Teens Are VERY Responsible

We here at This Week in Sex love any opportunity to remind adults that young people are actually very responsible when it comes to sex and birth control. The latest study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention National Survey of Family Growth gives us just that opportunity: It found that teens are not hopping into bed with everyone they see, and when they do decide to “get physical,” they use contraception.

According to the study, 44 percent of young men and 42 percent of young women between the ages 15 and 19 have had sex. After falling from highs in the late 1980s, this percentage has remained relatively steady for more than a decade.

What’s even better is that more sexually active young people are using contraception. Around 81 percent of girls say they used contraception the first time they had sex, which is up from 75 percent in 2002. Almost 90 percent of girls say they used contraception the last time they had sex, is up by 7 percent since 2002. And young men are more likely to use condoms at first sex (77 percent) than they were in 2002 (71 percent).

While this generation of young people is known for their hook-up culture, the study found that most had sex with people they knew well. Only 2 percent of females and 7 percent of males describe their first sexual partner as someone they just met. Instead, 74 percent of females and 51 percent of males said that they had sex for the first time with someone they were “going steady with.” More than 20 percent of females and 40 percent of males described their first sexual partner as “just a friend” or someone they went out with “every once in awhile.”

So, the next time you hear someone chastise “kids today” as being too promiscuous and hooking up with everyone, tell them it’s just not true. Then give them the facts: When today’s teens do have sex, they are using contraception—which is why our teen pregnancy and birth rates are at historic lows.

Exodus From Presidential HIV/AIDS Group

Six experts resigned from the Presidential Advisory Council on HIV/AIDS in mid-June because, as they wrote in an op-ed, the president “simply does not care.” The six resigning members of PACHA are Lucy Bradley-Springer, Gina Brown, Ulysses W. Burley III, Grissel Granados, Michelle Ogle, and Scott A. Schoettes.

The council, known as PACHA, was created in 1995 to provide recommendations to the secretary of Health and Human Services on policies, programs, and research. Members, who are appointed by the president, have included researchers, religious leaders, health-care providers, and people living with HIV. PACHA works with the Office of National AIDS Policy to implement the National HIV/AIDS Strategy, which was developed in 2010 and updated in 2015.

The Trump administration does not seem to be supporting either the National AIDS Strategy or the Office of National HIV/AIDS Policy. The office’s website was taken down on Inauguration Day and has not been replaced, and no one has been appointed to serve as its director. According to Schoettes, one of the PACHA members who resigned, “the Trump Administration has no strategy to address the ongoing HIV/AIDS epidemic, seeks zero input from experts to formulate HIV policy, and—most concerning—pushes legislation that will harm people living with HIV and halt or reverse important gains made in the fight against this disease.”

What’s most discouraging to the six resigning PACHA members, however, is the new health-care plan that Trump and the Republicans in Congress are trying desperately to pass. Among other horrors, the plan guts Medicaid. This would set HIV prevention and treatment back because more than 40 percent of people living with HIV get care through the public program.

Schoettes concluded his op-ed/public resignation letter by writing: “Because we do not believe the Trump Administration is listening to—or cares—about the communities we serve as members of PACHA, we have decided it is time to step down. We will be more effective from the outside, advocating for change and protesting policies that will hurt the health of the communities we serve and the country as a whole if this administration continues down the current path.”

Send a Vibrator to the Capitol

Unbound, a sex toy company with a subscription service, would like you to take a minute and spend $15 to send a vibrator to your favorite (or perhaps least favorite) member of the U.S. Congress. The #VibesForCongress campaign is the company’s response to the proposed repeal of the Affordable Care Act and threats to defund Planned Parenthood.

Unbound President and CEO Polly Rodriguez told Marie Claire: “If our government is going to pass legislation that affects millions of women and their access to reproductive health, they need to be aware of, able to talk about, and educated on the importance of female sexuality and sexual health. Through this initiative, our goal is to raise awareness that female sexuality is a crucial topic that cannot be ignored as we legislate for the future.”

The campaign’s webpage lets you find your own representatives by typing in your address, or lets you pick from a complete list of lawmakers.

Who do you think would most benefit from a reminder that women’s health is important? It’s your choice. There’s always Republican leaders Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin and Kentucky’s Sen. Mitch McConnell. Then there’s Iowa Rep. Steve King, who once suggested birth control is not medicine but could be the end of our civilization. Perhaps you want to send a gift to the 13 men who wrote the Senate health-care bill. Regardless of whom you choose to send a vibe to, 75 percent of the proceeds of this campaign will go to Planned Parenthood.