Fewer Teens Are Having Sex, Morning After Pill Use Increases

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Dec. 15, 2023 – Fewer older teens say they have had sex, according to new federal data. An estimated 9.4 million teens ages 15 to 19 years old said they have had sex, compared to 9.6 million who reported in 2002 that they were sexually experienced.

About four in 10 older U.S. teens said they have had sex, and teen boys are increasingly likely to report using contraception like condoms, the latest numbers show.

Nearly 41% of older teen girls and nearly 39% of older teen boys said they were sexually active, according to the CDC’s new report. Researchers defined sexual activity as having vaginal intercourse with someone of the opposite gender.

The rate of teen girls being sexually active has remained stable since 2002, researchers wrote. But the rate for teen boys has declined since that time, from nearly 46% in 2002, suggesting the overall decline was driven by a decline among boys.

“Monitoring sexual activity and contraceptive use among teenagers is important because of the health, economic, and social costs of pregnancy and childbearing among the teen population,” the authors wrote. “Teen pregnancy and birth rates have been declining since the early 1990s and have reached historic lows.”

But, the authors noted, the U.S. teen birth rate is still much higher than that of other developed countries. Birth rates in 2019 among 15- to 19-year-olds was:

  • 13.6 births per 1,000 girls in the U.S.
  • 6.9 births per 1,000 girls in Canada.
  • 9.5 births per 1,000 girls in France.
  • 7.5 births per 1,000 girls in Germany

Despite the decline in U.S. teen birth rates, inequalities persist, including the teen birth rate among Black and Hispanic teens remaining more than twice the rate among white teens.

Teens who have ever had sex and those who had sex within the past three or the past 12 months were likely to have mothers who had their first birth before age 20, the data showed. Sexually experienced and recently sexually active teens were also likely to not live with both biological or both adoptive parents.

CDC researchers analyzed data collected from 2015 to 2019 as part of the National Survey of Family Growth. Surveys are administered face-to-face. Responses included those from 1,894 female teens ages 15 to 19 years old, and from 1,918 male teens ages 15 to 19. 

While more older teen boys reported using contraception in the latest survey responses, contraception use among girls did not change significantly compared to the past dozen years. 

About half of older teen girls said their partner used a condom the last time they had sex. About 94% of older teen boys said they or their partner used some form of contraception the last time they had sex. Girls reported using birth control pills at similar rates in 2015-2019 as they did in 2002, with 52% most recently saying they use the pill. 

Meanwhile, use of emergency contraception such as the morning after pill, also called Plan B, rose from 8% in 2002 to 22% during 2015-2019.

When older teens were asked about their feelings regarding their first time having sexual intercourse, 46% of girls said they really wanted it to happen, compared to 69% of boys. Among girls, 47% said they had mixed feelings, and nearly 8% said they didn’t want it to happen. Among boys, 27% said they had mixed feelings and 4% said they didn’t want it to happen.

The findings “suggest reduced risk of [sexually transmitted infections] and pregnancy, and, in the case of pregnancies, parallel actual declines in those rates,” the authors summarized. “However, risk of pregnancy and STIs still remains. For example, about 874,000 female teenagers used no method of contraception at first sex in 2015–2019.”