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Teens Are Getting the Message About Safe Sex

Update Date: Jun 26, 2017 08:58 AM EDT
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Teenagers are finally getting the safe sex message. 

A new report by the CDC's National Center for Health Statistics finds that just over half of the teens surveyed (55%) have had sex before age 18. The study covered 4,100 teens between 2011 and 2015. These numbers are not down significantly from 1988. What is significant is that almost all of the female teenagers (99.4%) reported using contraceptives at some point. This number is up from the previous decade. In 2002 the rate of contraception use in the same group was 97.2%.

"The teen pregnancy rate in the U.S. is higher than most other developed countries and it often has negative consequences as well individual and societal costs," study author Joyce C. Abma, Ph.D., of the National Center for Health Statistics commented. "That in addition to sexually transmitted infections, these are public health issues that we need to get a hold on what the causes are. Sexual activity and contraceptive use are the direct mechanisms that drive these trends." 

Over 80% of girls interviewed said that they used contraception the first time they had sex. This number is much improved from the past. It was a long established belief among teenagers that you could not get pregnant your first time having sex. Remember that one? It ranked right up there with the lie about feeding alka-seltzer to seagulls and watching them explode.

"These trends make sense in light of the reduction over time since the 1990s in the rates of teen pregnancy and childbearing," Abma said.

Still there is some risky behavior going on out there. A large percentage (60%) of teenagers say that they have used the "pull out method" as a form of birth control. This, of course does nothing to stop the spread of sexually transmitted diseases. Experts say that even with "perfect use" 4 percent of couples relying on withdrawal will become pregnant within a year. Of course "perfect use" is difficult to attain, and more realistic estimates suggest that about 18 percent of couples using this method will become pregnant within a year. 

"The overall trends [in the CDC report] are positive. We have more kids choosing not to have sex and that's great news,"  said Dr. Ellen Rome, head of Cleveland Clinic Children's Center for Adolescent Medicine. "We have more kids using some form of contraception, but the problem is that lumped into that is the group [using] withdrawal as that method. So we have room for improvement in how we counsel kids on effective contraception." 

As safe sex advocates have been saying for years, communication is the key. Shaming kids and making them sign abstinence pledges does not work -- in fact, such strategies are linked to an increase in pregnancies by teens. Giving teenagers the proper information about sex has shown to have a far greater effect on teen pregnancy than abstinence only programs. 

"Talking about sex and responsible sexuality does not make kids suddenly become rabbits and start having more sex," Rome added. "It makes kids more thoughtful about their decisions." 

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