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Teenagers today are having less sex and are using more contraception than kids three decades ago. 

Researchers at the National Center for Health Statistics, using new data of never-married teens released Thursday, found 42% of girls and 44% of boys between 15 and 19 years old had experienced vaginal intercourse.

Both rates have remained steady since about 2002, but are among the lowest levels in the nearly 30 years of national data on teen sex. In 1988, 51% of teenage girls and 60% of teenage boys had sex. 

The numbers match the dwindling rates of teenage pregnancy, which has dropped 64% since the early 1990s, reaching a record low in 2015. That year, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recorded about 230,000 teenage pregnancies among the 19 million Americans between 15 and 19. Despite the decrease, America's teen pregnancy rates are still higher than other developed countries such as Canada and France. 

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Although the reasons aren't clear, the CDC said evidence shows teen pregnancy's dip is because of abstinence and an increase in birth control use.Indeed, contraception use among teens has increased, if slightly, the study said.

The Hispanic, black and white demographics all have seen sex rates decrease since 1988. A notable dip is in African-American girls. In 2002, 57% of black girls had sex. In 2011-2015, that number was down to 47%, said Joyce Abma, a National Center for Health Statistics demographer.

Teens who came from a two-parent home were less likely to have sex and more likely to use contraception.

Condoms still most used form of birth control

Nearly all girls in the study had used some method of birth control, with the condom leading the way. 

About 81% of girls said they used a contraceptive the first time they had sex, up from about 75% in 2002. For men, it was 84%, steady with levels in 2002 and from 2006-2010. As for the last time they had sex, about 90% of girls said they used a contraceptive, up 7% since 2002. 

Abma said while condoms still lead the way in terms of contraception, girls are using new alternatives, such as emergency contraception like Plan B and IUDs, more and more. About 55% said they used the pill, and 17% had used Depo-Provera.

'Going steady' vs. 'just friends'

Often, first sexual encounters were with a partner in which the teen was "going steady." This was the case 74% of the time with girls and 51% of the time with boys.

The sexual encounters between teens who were "just friends" were common in those whose first sexual experience came when they were 14 years old or younger.

The most common answer for why teens abstained from sex was because it went against their religion or morals. The fact they "haven't found the right person yet" was the second-leading factor followed by not wanting a pregnancy.

Cora Breuner, a professor at Seattle Children's Hospital, said she attributes the decrease in sex and the increase in contraception use to the HIV academic and the changing attitudes toward sex because as a result.

She said while contraception use is up, it should be more prevalent.

"It really should be 100%," she said. "While it's good, it's not good enough. We need to do better."

She said for contraception to be more widespread, teens, families and doctors need to talk more about sex. Also, access to contraception and confidential care need to be more widespread.

"It's much more expensive  to have an unplanned pregnancy," she said, "than to have someone on birth contorl pills."

Follow Sean Rossman on Twitter: @SeanRossman

 

 

 

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