Fewer Ky. teens are having sex, and more teens are using birth control when they do; teen birth rates are at an all-time low

By Melissa Patrick
Kentucky Health News

Fewer teens are having sex now than did in the last generation, and of those that do, more are using some form of birth-control, according to a new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The Kentucky Youth Risk Behavioral Survey, which offers data from 1997, shows similar trends in Kentucky.

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The percentage of Kentucky girls who reported they have ever had sex dropped 14 percent, to 43 percent in 2013 from 50.3 percent in 1997, and the boys dropped 23 percent, to 46 percent in 2013 from 60 percent in 1997, according to the YRBS.

Nationwide, the CDC report found the percentage of teen girls who reported they’ve had sex at least once also dropped 14 percent, to 44 percent in 2011-13 from 51 percent in 1988. Among boys there was a 22 percent decrease, to 47 percent in 2011-13 from 60 percent in 1988. The rate of sexual activity among teens from 2002 to 2013 averaged 45 percent.

In 2013, fewer Kentucky high school students than ever, 44.7 percent, reported that they had ever had sex, compared to 53.7 percent in 1997, the highest percentage reported over the years surveyed.

Data from the national report was compiled from the 1988 and 2011-13 National Survey of Family Growth of boys and girls aged 15 to 19.

One reason for the trend toward less teen sex might be that teens have more access to information via the Internet and are more comfortable searching for credible information about sexual health, Dr. Brooke Bokor, an adolescent medicine specialist at the Children’s National Health System told Danielle Paquette and Weiyi (Dawn) Cai of The Washington Post.

Dr. Boker also suggested that the growing popularity of the human papillomavirus vaccine has forced a conversation about sexual health between young patients, parents and their physician.

“They learn from doctors that you can catch HPV even if you use a condom,” Bokor told the Post, emphasizing some common conditions spread through skin-to-skin contact. “They might think: How else can I stay healthy?”

Teens using more birth control

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More teens are now using birth control and most often it’s a condom, according to the CDC report.

At 97 percent usage, the condom is the most common “ever used” contraceptive among teens, followed by withdrawal at an alarming 60 percent and the pill at 54 percent. Very few teens use the patch, an intrauterine device (IUD) or a hormonal implant, even though these methods have a higher rate of effectiveness. Notably, the use of emergency contraception — like the Plan B pill — for teen girls grew from 8 percent in 2002 to 22 percent in 2013.

The report also found that teens who reported using some form of birth control during their first sexual encounter were half as likely to become teen moms than those who did not.

Teen birth control in Kentucky

The Kentucky YRBS approached this question by asking teens who had reported being currently sexually active if they had not used certain birth control options during their last sexual intercourse encounter. In 2013, 31.7 percent of Kentucky’s high school students said they were currently sexually active.

Of this group, 46.9 percent said they did not use a condom; 80.1 percent said they did not use the birth control pill; 97.4 percent said they did not use an IUD; and 95.1 percent said they did not used a shot, patch, or birth control ring.

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It also asked this group if they didn’t use any method of birth control the last time they had had sex and found that 15.1 percent said they had not: 18.6 percent of females and 11.2 percent of males.

How effective is your birth control?

Eighteen percent of women who use condoms, 22 percent of women who use withdrawal and 24 percent of women who use fertility awareness get pregnant during the first year if they use these methods, according to the CDC. The pregnancy rate is much lower for other methods.

IUDs (.05 percent) or an implant (0.2 to 0.8 percent) offer the best protection against an unwanted pregnancy, followed by the pill (9 percent), injectable (6 percent), patch (9 percent), ring (9 percent) and diaphragm (12 percent), according to the CDC.

When are teens likely to have sex?

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The CDC report found that it is more likely for teen boys to start sex at an earlier age than girls, but by age 17, the probabilities of having had sex were about the same. This was also found to be true in the Kentucky YRBS.

For males, 18 percent reported having sex at age 15 compared to 13 percent of females and at age 17, 44 percent of males reported having had sex,compared to 43 percent of females. And this trend continued through age 19.

The Kentucky YRBS asks who has had sex for the first time before age 13 and found that 5.4 percent of teens in Kentucky had had sex before age 13 — 3.2 percent of the girls and 7.5 percent of the boys.

To see if the national trends related to age and sex held true in Kentucky, we looked at the Kentucky YRBS question that asks who has ever had sex broken down by grade levels among the 44.7 percent of high-school students that had ever had sex (43.3 percent girls and 45.9 percent boys): 24.6 percent were in 9th grade (21 percent girls and 28 percent boys); 35 percent were in the 10th grade (32.2 percent girls and 38 percent boys); 59.3 percent were in 11th grade (57.7 percent girls and 60.7 percent boys); and 64.5 percent were in the 12th grade (66.5 percent girls and 62.3 percent boys).

Why does it matter?

Fewer teens having sex coincides with the nationwide trend of fewer teen births. In 2013, the nation’s teen birth rate was at its lowest ever: 26.6 births per 1000 females ages 15 to 19. Kentucky’s teen birth rate, while higher than the national average, was also at its lowest ever at 38.7 teen births per 1000 females ages 15 to 19.

In 2010, the CDC reported that teen pregnancy and birth cost the nation an estimated $9.4 billion a year.

The Kentucky Department of Public Health “Teen Pregnancy Prevention in Kentucky” report says that in 2008, teen childbearing in Kentucky cost taxpayers at least $158 million. It also lays out the high social cost to both the teen parent and their families, such as the mother is less likely to graduate from high school; there is a nine times increase in the chance that the mother and child will live in poverty; teen mothers often receive little or no prenatal care; and there is an increased chance of infant mortality.

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One Reply to “Fewer Ky. teens are having sex, and more teens are using birth control when they do; teen birth rates are at an all-time low”

  1. HM Seiler

    I don't understand why my comments do not get posted.

    Here is what I commented on the teen birth issue yesterday–informative, not provocative.

    The latest Annie E Casey Report says that, in 2012, Kentucky had 42 teen births per 1000, comparatively higher than 29 per 1000, the figure for the whole US. Although 42 is an improvement over the 2005 tally, surely the numbers are still troubling. The data are posted at http://www.aecf.org/m/databook/2014KC_profile_KY.pdf

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