Teen Sex Update: Fewer Teens Doing It, More Boys Using Condoms

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The latest government survey of teen sex and contraceptive use finds that things have largely remained unchanged in last eight years: teens are still having less sex and using birth control more often than you’d think.

The survey did reveal a couple of notable exceptions in safe sex behavior, though. Teen boys are now using condoms more frequently at first sex, often combined with a second form of birth control, and teen girls are increasingly using newer hormonal contraceptives like patches and rings.

The new report [PDF], released Wednesday, is based on data from the National Survey of Family Growth, a project that government researchers have been updating periodically since 1973. The first such survey didn’t include never-married women, since it was “then considered too sensitive” to interview single ladies about sex, the authors write, but in 1982, as births to unwed mothers began increasing, the survey was expanded to include all teens and women aged 15 to 44, regardless of marital status. In 2002, researchers began including teen boys and men as well.

MORE: The Results Are In: First National Study of Teen Masturbation

The latest teen sex data, covering the 2006-10 period, included interviews with 4,662 teens — 2,284 girls and 2,378 boys. In broad strokes, the data suggest that U.S. teens’ sexual habits haven’t evolved much since the last survey in 2002. Currently, 43% of teen girls and 42% of teen boys report ever having had sex, rates that have more or less plateaued since 2002, following a long period of decline. Between 1988 and 2002, by comparison, the percentage of teen girls who had had sex fell from 51% to 46%, while the same rate in teen boys dropped from 60% to 46%.

But when looking at the data more closely, by race, researchers found that the proportion of black teen girls reporting having had sex had dropped — from 57% in 2002 to 46% in 2006-10 — to match rates of sex in white and Hispanic girls for the first time.

In boys, the trend lines continued to diverge by race: compared with 37% of white teen boys who reported having had sex, 46% of Hispanic teens and 58% of black teen boys did.

For both girls and boys, the odds of their ever having had sex were significantly smaller if:

  • they lived with both parents when they were aged 14
  • their mothers had their first birth at age 20 or over
  • the teenager’s mother was a college graduate
  • the teenager lived with both of her/his parents

MORE: Who Are Teens’ Sexual Role Models? Turns Out, It’s Their Parents

In 2006-10, most teens (78% of girls, 85% of boys) reported using any form of contraception during their first sexual encounter — and that overall rate hasn’t changed much since 2002. But more teen boys — 80% — are now reporting using condoms during first sex, a significant increase from 71% in 2002. More teen boys also said they used a condom in addition to another birth control method, such as the pill.

Girls, meanwhile, also reported using condoms (68%) as their contraception of choice during first sex, followed by the pill (16%). A small, but growing percentage of girls reported using other, newer kinds of hormonal birth control — like injectables, the morning-after pill, the contraceptive patch and the ring.

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